Sunday, May 15, 2011

Carrot and Stick

Students have a habit, a very bad habit. But the fault isn't their own (at least not wholly). Teachers are to blame. We've inculcated the habit.

What is this habit? To work only when there's an immediate prospect of reward or punishment.

Thus students believe that the only point of homework is the grade that it will receive. To learn the day's lesson? To prepare for the test to come? To lay a foundation for future work? Perhaps even genuine interest? None of that seems to matter at all.

The result is this. Students work only when that very assignment will receive a grade. Tell them that it won't receive a grade and they blow it off. (Of course not all will. But many do. In my experience, the percentage is well over 50.)

I hate this. I have that everything we do in class must have its own carrot and stick. I do love what I teach. Geometry is very rich ground in which to till, and the skills that its study imparts have application far outside mathematics. Would that I could convey this to my students. (Lord knows I try. Sometimes I burn so brightly in my classes that I end the day completely exhausted.) Would that work would be done because it was thought important, not because it would receive a grade.

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