Students should feel free to work without the threat of a grade so they can feel free to fail.  Using grades as the primary way to bribe students to do quality work is sending the message that the reason for school work is to get grades and not to improve.  If a student doesn’t care about the grade, the system breaks down.

  1. Establish a Culture of Excellence – The environment of your classroom sets the stage for everything else that happens.  Have high expectations for every student and offer a high degree of assistance to get them there.  Share feelings of disappointment due to inferior effort and feelings of pride due to quality effort.
  2. Adopt a Respect Mindset – Understand that students lead complex and unequal lives.  Learn to respect the differences of opinion, differences of interest, differences of learning, differences of home lives, and differences of culture that might initially look like apathy or disrespect.
  3. Work During Class – Homework should be used as an intervention only.  Take a close look at the way class time is used.  Reduce teacher talking time and increase student talking time.  Reduce lecture and provide notes to students.  Use the time gained through efficiency for student practice.  If the content can’t be presented and practiced by most students during class time, there is too much content.
  4. Include Student Voice – Choice in project design helps increase buy-in.  It also can provide for cross-curricular integration.
  5. Stand Back – Don’t be afraid to not constantly be busy.  Sometimes what students need is the opportunity to struggle and problem solve on their own.  Be the expert students can come to when they hit an obstacle they can’t reason their way out of.  You don’t need to (and shouldn’t) constantly be hovering over the work your students are doing.  This isn’t to stay you shouldn’t frequently check-in and provide guidance/support, just not constantly.
  6. Take Time to Team Build – It is OK to get off task and share stories.  Let your students get to know you.  Get to know your students.  Let your students get to know each other.  When students care about their teacher and know their teacher cares about them, they’ll work harder.
  7. Share Home – When exciting things are happening in your classroom, consider making a short video or taking a few pictures to e-mail home.  When parents are informed of what’s happening in the classroom they’re more likely to ask questions at home.  When parents express interest, students are more likely to want to play an active role in the story.  Positive stories home also add to the “relationship bank account” that you can draw from if you need to contact home about something negative.  If a student isn’t working well, consider having that student e-mail both you and their parents a behavior report explaining why they aren’t working to their full potential.  Reply all that you’ll be contacting the parent by phone.
  8. Be Purposeful – Ensure the tasks you are having students do are directly targeting the learning objectives you have.  At least 90% of the time students are working should be targeted to the learning objective.
  9. Have Students Self-Assess – Ask students to rate their own work in terms of rigor, process, and learning outcomes.  Any identified deficits should be followed up with a student suggested solution.
  10. Give Feedback – Once you see the student feedback and potential solutions, check for fidelity and look for any missed areas.  Consider their plan for improvement and make suggestions if need be.
  11. Give Rationale – “Because I said so,” doesn’t respect students.  Students deserve to know the “why” behind the “what.”  When they understand their work has a purpose, it is easier to work at a high level.
  12. Utilize the Power of Peer Pressure – When students are working together in groups, make it known that the productivity of each student is the responsibility of the entire group.  Encourage students to take leadership roles in encouraging and teaching their peers to actively participate.  Intervene when personalities are interfering with productivity.  Consider using the POD lesson planning strategy to accomplish these goals.
  13. Relax – The learning process takes time and is not always neat and orderly.  A classroom can be productive and noisy at the same time.  Students can be consistently working productively and also miss the deadline.  Keep in mind that plans are only that – a plan for how things will play out.  Plans are not rigid directions that must be followed to the letter
  14. Include Competition – Occasionally, announce you are going to judge the products students are creating and will give a prize for the winner.  (In my classroom, I give away freebies from online giveaways or from events that have been generously donated)
  15. Stop Expecting Perfection – Under the old paradigm of using punitive grades, many students didn’t do their work.  Some students will attempt to not do their work when you stop giving grades for formative work as well.  Keep pushing and working to inspire the ones who are less than interested or motivated to complete their work.

4 thoughts on “15 Strategies for Motivating Students that Don’t Involve Punitive Grading

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