How are grades motivating students?

If you know me, you’ve probably heard my rant about grading and learning.  One doesn’t necessarily beget the other.  I recently signed up for the Chronicle’s new Teaching Newsletter and was pleased to see that today’s edition has a piece about the link between grades, feedback and student motivation.  Sadly, students report that their motivation stays the same or declines during college.  If that weren’t depressing enough, it appears that grades are contributing to this trend by either by refocusing a student from learning to obtaining the grade or (even worse) demotivating the student because high marks seem out of their reach.

The following quote from the newsletter is heartening:

There’s more to motivating students than how you grade, of course. Students’ motivation is closely tied to their sense of a course’s intrinsic worth, research has found. That’s something professors can cultivate by giving students autonomy, for instance by letting them tailor assignments to their interests. Motivating students isn’t just a warm, fuzzy thing to do: Gains in motivation predict retention. And whatever else happens to this year’s freshmen, colleges definitely want them back as next year’s sophomores.

Source:  Dan Berrett and Beckie Supiano in the Teaching Newsletter.

Beckie Supiano is collecting examples of strategies for helping students stay motivated to learn.  Send yours to her at

If you would like to sign up for the Teaching Newsletter, you can do so here.

About Dr. J. Metzker

I believe in the power of a liberal education to transform individuals and society. I am currently the Executive Director of the Brown Center for Faculty Innovation and Excellence. Formerly, I led a community engagement initiative and held a full professorship in chemistry at a public liberal arts university. I am a proud product of The Evergreen State College.
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