Restructuring Grading Systems to Motivate Students

Restructuring Grading Systems to Motivate StudentsFaculty can structure their grading systems to intrinsically motivate students and foster rigor, according to Linda B. Nilson, a widely published author on effective teaching. In a CIDDE-sponsored workshop “Structuring Student Risk to Foster Rigor: A New, Motivating Grading System,” Nilson described approaches to grading that communicate clear expectations and distinguish between levels of competency. An additional benefit of the grading systems is the easing of faculty workloads.

Grading assignments on a pass/fail basis according to specifications that describe exact expectations has been shown to increase student motivation and produce higher quality work, according to Nilson. Students who follow the directions and terms of the assignment by submitting work that is complete, satisfactory, and on time, receive full credit. The key is to “literally connect the dots for students,” Nilson said.

To “buffer the riskiness of the removal of partial credit” for assignments, Nilson suggested that faculty consider allowing students to use a limited number of tokens for assignment extensions, making up an exam, or being late for class. Tokens can be used in diverse ways at the instructor’s discretion.

Nilson encouraged faculty to consider organizing courses with sequences of bundled assignments and tests. Each bundle corresponds to a grade, and students to choose the grade they will earn by selecting a particular bundle. This makes the connection between grades and learning outcomes more transparent and allows each student to choose a work load and corresponding grade based on the individual’s level of motivation and available time. Students must meet all of the specifications for each bundle, and higher course grades would require more challenging work.

You can read more about Nilson’s workshop in the University Times.

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