Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom

“The weight of evidence at the present time is that inelligence is multidimensional, and that the fulll range of these dimensions is not completely captured by any single general ability” (Sternberg, 1996).

In 1983, development psychologist Howard Gardner first proposed his theory about multiple intelligences, where there are at least 7 different forms of intelligence. While everyone has at least a measure of each of the intelligences, each person has a particular blend of them. So, for instance, Sarah may have a more develop musical intelligence, but Fred might have a stronger visual spatial intelligence, etc.

Gardner proposed that these intelligences do not have high correlations between them. This was in stark contrast to the prevailing notions of the standard IQ scale, which dominated throughout the 20th century. Most especially Charles Spearman’s notion of the g factor, which posits that all forms of intelligence are highly correlated.

What if we revised our classes according to the multiple intelligences? What if students took classes called, ”Bodily-Kinesthetic Education,” “Linguistic Education”, etc?

1. Well, at first glance, not much! Many of our class subjects would not need be changed much. e.g. Math would still be covered in “logical-mathematical education” class, and music will still be taught in a “musical intelligence” class.

2. But this theory does show us what kind of class our schools are currently lacking: interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalist intelligence. We could have classes which explores human emotions, and shows students how to deal with them. For interpersonal education, we could extend our English class to include lessons about how to communicate in a variety of real-life settings, and through a variety of means (e.g verbally, through email, etc.) We could present students with tools on how to network, manage complex sets of relationships, and to deal with people tactfully.

As for naturalist education, I think the reason why this intelligence is largely neglected, is because our understanding and concern about protecting the environment is relatively new. Anyways, with this class, could teach students how to garden, appreciate nature, and survive in anture. Furthermore, Gardner’s naturalist intelligence includes more than just what we consider to be “nature.” It also includes being able to scanning and utilizing one’s environment, even in urban or man-made settings. We could teach students how to better observe and take note of what goes on around them. We could hone their sense of smell, taste, hearing, and touch.

3. There are two aspects to learning: in any given class (e.g. science class), 1) students learn about the world (e.g. after food is swallowed, it passes through the esophagus, befor entering the stomach), and 2) they learn to do things (e.g. when students write a lab report after they do a science experiment). This change would only affect the doing aspect, leaving courses which focus more on the learning about aspect (e.g. history class) untouched.

4. These new names will (hopefully) shift the classes’ emphasis on developing students’ skills, and helping students grow as human beings, rather than just dolling out the material, and testing students in order to compare them (which we could emphasize more alter on during their tertiary education.) It will help remind everyone of why we’re going to school in the first place.

Some benefits to extrinsic motivation?

Just like how there are many benefits of having a growth mindset over a fixed mindset, there are many benefits of being intrinsically motivated rather than extrinsically motivated. And I believe that intrinsic motivation is 10x better, healthier, and long-lasting than extrinsic motivation (along with a with a wide variety of psychological benefits over EM, as I reported in an earlier post.) So before I go any further, don’t get me wrong, intrinsic motivation is definitely the way to go! I think mostly everyone – progressives, traditionalists, and everyone in between – would agree with me here.

However, I would argue that, (unlike fixed mindsets,) there actually are a few benefits to being extrinsically motivated.  (Scandalous!) So, if we were to think of “good” as up, and “bad” as down, I present my IM/EM diagram on a tilt:

It’s like junk food. We all know it’s unhealthy for us, but there’s a reason why we make it, sell it, and eat it. For instance, we eat ice cream because it tastes good! If it didn’t taste good, no one would eat it! And in moderation, it’s okay, and it does provide life’s little pleasures. (hehe)

Anyways, here are some benefits to EM:

1. Fostering extrinsic motivation is often easier, less costly, and less time consuming than fostering intrinsic motivation. Especially if class sizes are huge. And students all used to it, so there’s not much to explain to them.

2. Here’s my theory about intrinsic motivation (IM) and extrinsic motivation (EM). Each person has a certain level of IM and EM, with respect to each task they encounter. IM and EM are 2 separate variables, so you can be “high in both”, “low in both”, “high in one, and low in the other”, or anywhere in between.

Each task also has a level of difficulty (or level of skill required). This determines the amount of total motivation you need to actually get up and do the task (I call it the “action threshold”)!If your combined level of IM and EM are higher than the threshold needed to turn motivation into action, you’ll do the action!

2 Examples

1) Bringing out the recycling bin each Wednesday evening. (TASK C) Your EM and IM could both be low for this (ie, you don’t really care about doing this, and you’re not feeling coerced to do it much either.) But the level of difficulty for that task is also really low, so you’ll most likely do it without much hesitation.

2) Writing an essay. Because (let’s say) the difficulty level is really high, you either need to love the topic (TASK A), feel forced to do it (TASK B), or some combination of the two.

The kicker

Here’s something I find ironic: on one hand, intrinsic motivation (IM) and extrinsic motivation (EM) are in a sense, polarizing. Cognitive evaluation theory says that if you give people external motivators, depending on how they’re perceived, they run the risk of decreasing IM. But on the other hand, it is the sum of IM and EM that determine whether action will be taken or not!

So, in a sense, EM and IM work against each other, and in a sense, they work together.

IM over Time

Like almost any other variable applied to human beings, IM (even for 1 given task) is never completely even and “smooth” over time. There will be variations, slight deviations up and down, as time goes on. For instance, you get a headache, so you don’t feel like working any more on that essay. Or your favourite TV show is on, so you’d rather be watching that instead.

And this is why EM is a “good” thing! Because external motivators get you to work even during those times when you don’t “feel like it,” but when it’s “good for you.” They “bridge the gaps” between those times when IM drops belwo the threshold.

This, of course, does not take away the value of choosing tasks that are IM, and in nurturing IM in students. Because the more IM you have, the less EM you need to “bridge the gaps” and to take action.

Fostering Growth Mindsets in Students

Motivational psychologist Carol Dweck has spent most of her career looking at how a person’s views about intelligence affect their performance in a particular domain. Those who believe that intelligence is fixed, unchangeable, and innate have what’s known as a fixed mindset or fixed theory of intelligence, whereas those who believe that success and intelligence are a product of one’s efforts and hard work have what’s known as a growth mindset.

Applied to Goals

These mindsets influence many other things, such as what kind of goals people set. Those with fixed mindsets tend to set performance goals, where instead of bettering  themselves, they accomplish as task in order to prove how good their (fixed) level of talent/intelligence is. Alternatively, those with growth mindsets tend to set mastery goals, where they try to excel at the task itself, which in turn tends to be correlated with higher levels of intrinsic motivation.

Applied to Education

This paradigm applies very well to the field of education, especially in a system where students are constantly under pressure to succeed. Dweck has written a whole ton of papers about how her theory can help students to achieve in school, such as this one and this one. She has also done studies showing how students who have been taught about the differences between these mindsets, and who have been exposed to some introductory science about brain plasticity, have shown remarkable increases in their academic performance. Her team has even created a computer game called Brainology based on this model, where students can learn and apply this theory in a fun way.

Okay, so that’s the gist of it. (I didn’t want to go on, but check out the links if you’re interested!)
Now here are some of my own thoughts about this!

1. Parallels

It’s amazing to see just how many parallels there are between Dweck’s theory, and several other psychological theories. Check out this shmexy diagram I just made:

I’d definitely endorse the message that Dweck and others are promoting about intelligence. And it doesn’t even have to be through her computer program – anyone who is aware of it can go ahead and just teach it! I would recommend introducing the concept at the beginning of Grade 7 (or whenever high school starts). This would give students a great head start for their high school studies, and empower them to do well and to stay in school.

2. Self-Evaluation Grades

As for our grades, well, they currently give no indications to students one way or another. I admit this would be highly tricky to do.

For instance, I remember in elementary school, the back page of our report cards would always include a “self-evaluation” section. We didn’t know it at the time, but I fathom/hope that this was an attempt to incorporate this message of empowerment.

The problem? Most of us always gave ourselves the best marks possible on that report card, rather than being genuine and thoughtful in our self-evaluation. e.g. 1 1 1 1 1 1. (on a scale from 1-4). Of course, we made sure to bring down a few of the grades, to make others seem like we were being realistic. e.g. 1 1 2 1 2 1

Why? Because we were afraid of not impressing and pleasing our parents and teachers. Back then, we lived in a world where we had to constantly try to impress them with our work, day in and day out. We had what’s known as a contingent self-esteem. A sense of self that depended on how well we did in schools. This is especially bad in certain cultures, as this 60 minutes Australia report shows. So even when this new set of grades came out, we students were still stuck in the mindset of our regular grades because they were not explained properly.

So what needs to be done here? I say, let’s beexplicit with our students about what we’re actually trying to do here. Like Dweck and her team are doing. And in the process, we can show students a neat lesson in psychology.

4. There’s this unfortunate prevailing notion in our culture that endorses a fixed mindset. For some reason, students always like to say, “oh, he’s so smart” or, “I’m not smart enough for this class,” etc. Now I’m not sure if this is a natural human thing, or a product of our educational system, but I’m guessing that it’s a combination of the two.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I actually do think that some people have certain innate qualities about them that give them advantages or disadvantages over others in many domains. But in most cases, I believe these differences can be overcome (or at least mitigated). I picture it like a running race, but where each runner starts off at a different distance away from the finish line. While you may be place farther back than someone else, the “race” isn’t over. Okay, so that’s my position… there’s actually a huge debate in the field of psychology about this, if you’re interested.

5. One way of changing at least one of the outcomes – whether or not students opt to challenge themselves – is by implementing yet another psychological concept – approach vs. avoidance. But I’ll get to that later! (Please nag me if I don’t get that post done soon!)

Developing Our Multiple “Faculties of Knowing”

Last year, I took a course called “Cognition,” where we learned about the different “faculties of knowing.” (e.g. imagery, problem-solving, language, etc.) It was an introductory/survey course, so each week covered a different faculty. Each chapter of our textbook also covers 1 faculty, so we pretty much read 1 chapter / week, and the course flowed quite nicely.

Here are the topics we learned about:

Cognitive Neuroscience
Perception
Attention
Memory
Imagery
Language
Problem-Solving
Reasoning, Judgement, and Choice
Intelligence and Creativity
Applied Cognitive Psychology
Autism (as a “bonus” topic for the last week of class, after our class voted on it)

The kicker? We learned all about of these different, and amazing ways of thinking, and yet the only way we were tested was through our memory.  All we did were multiple choice questions based on the lectures and the textbook. So even though we learned how to improve our perception, imagery, and memory, the only skill we developed in practice was our memory. I see this as a huge missed opportunity.

 

The point of this post is not to criticize this course in particular. In fact, I’m very grateful to have taken this course, as it has opened my eyes to the many ways in which people think. Many of which we could develop in our students (of all ages!)

The Organizational Culture at Desautels

This was an article that I wrote for a class a few years ago. It applies the concept of organizational culture to the school and faculty and that I am currently attending. Just a warning, it was originally intended as an academic paper, so that style of writing I used is way different than the style I normally use here on this blog.

Organizational culture is the set of all the shared values, beliefs, norms, and assumptions within an organization. It provides individuals with a shared frame of reference that applies to the capacity with which they expect to interact. While it often has both a physical and a non-physical aspect, the latter is its sine qua non. In other words, even when it manifests itself through observable artifacts, it must have some sort of meaning to be considered culture.

Indeed, organizational culture a very fluid, subjective concept. It influences people’s cognitions, emotions, and behaviour, but it itself is socially defined. It underscores the reciprocal influence between individuals and the institutions and situations where they interact.

Only the assumptions that help an organization to deal with its internal and external threats tend to persist. As the organization ages, the successful assumptions become increasingly taken for granted as natural and obvious. This has negative and positive effects. On one hand, it allows the individuals to transfer their mental energy from processing the assumptions to fulfilling the organization’s goals. On the other hand, it can lead to stagnation and make the organization vulnerable if the threats to its survival change.

There are several underlying dimensions of organizational culture. Each of them highlights specific examples of how culture manifests itself. For instance, the dimension of the nature of human activity prescribes expectations on the behaviour of individuals, especially those within the organization. Whichever behaviours are in line with the values of the organization are promoted and/or rewarded, and those that are not are discouraged and/or punished.

No two people are alike, but some people are more different to each other than others. Thus, you will find that some groups of people are more diverse than others. Furthermore, a group of people may be more diverse in some aspects, and less diverse with others. The degree to which each aspect of diversity is promoted or discouraged is known as the homogeneity vs. diversity dimension.

Another dimension of culture is the nature of human relationships. This describes how a culture rewards the way people treat other people in the organization, and whose interests each of them is looking out for. It also describes the culture’s views with respect to competition between individuals.

In order to understand the culture of the Desautels BCom experience, it is important to understand its social context. The Faculty of Management is mostly run like any other North American undergraduate school: students attend classes, study the material, and try to get good grades. Thus, much of its culture imbedded in this educational system, and by the time students have entered it, they have well socialized into it during their time in grade school.

However, there are some things which set it apart. (From my personal experience, I can only compare it with the McGill Faculty of Arts.) Compared to Arts, Desautels emphasizes an interesting combination of group work and competitiveness. The competitive aspect is manifest through the 65-75% class average rule. This shows a concern to integrate students into the competitive management culture, where one’s financial gain often comes at the expense of a competitor. This also shows a high value on fairness, in the sense that it rewards professors for challenging their students at a standard level. The cooperative aspect is made manifest through the emphasis on group projects, which is in stark contrast with the individual assignments typically given in Arts. This is possibly done to mediate the highly competitive organizational culture, and possibly to reiterate the assumption of preparation for the management culture. The dimension of the nature of human relationships shows how the culture at Desautels is a unique blend of management and undergraduate education culture.

Desautels has a high percentage of international students and faculty. The school’s website, agenda, and promotional material all emphasize the international nature of the school. Alternatively, only those with the highest grades are admitted into the program, while extracurricular activities are not taken into account. Thus, the Desautels application procedure operates on geographic diversity, but not intellectual or lifestyle diversity. Diversity with respect to field of studies is encouraged, as can be seen with the flexibility of the program and the wide range of majors and concentrations to choose from. All undergraduates are expected to take courses outside of the faculty, which indicates a value in being a well-rounded person.

McGill expects its students to be proactive in many respects. Much of the students’ focus is expected to be on achieving high grades and getting involved in the school community. These two things are verbally emphasized during Orientation week, the mandatory Career Prep 101 and other workshops, and during class.

On the other hand, students are not encouraged to be active with respect to the grading system of the class. Whether they will complete an assignment, a quiz, or an oral presentation has been predetermined by the professor, and it is never publicly debated or questioned in class. And in contrast to other faculties, students generally cannot “drop” their lowest mark, and they cannot decide when listen to a lecture, as there are no recordings available online. Students are expected to be more passive in this respect.

Boring Lectures

Let’s face it guys and gals. Most of the time, traditional schooling is boring. There, I said it: B-O-R-I-N-G, boring! Even for someone like me, who loves to learn in general, it can be boring a lot of the time. Once in a while, when I’m sitting near the front of the class, I like to turn around and “check in” with my classmates, to see how they’re doing on a psychological level. Man, those faces!! I don’t to stereotype too much, but I often see tiredness, hostility, zoning out, and apathy, to name a few.

And some of the teachers themselves are bored by the lectures. I’ve had a few teachers who took some of my favourite topics in the world, and turned them into complete drudgery. And then they wonder why the high school drop out rate is so high here!

So what’s your take on the “boring” issue? Can you think of any creative ways to help reduce boredom in the classroom? What will it take – better teachers, better material, a different organizational culture? A mixture of methods? Or are things fine the way they are?

I mean, I agree that it does take hard work to achieve “the heights of success and learning,” so at times the process WILL be boring. But most certainly not at the astronomic levels of boredom we students currently experience!

Letting students choose the contents of a lecture

Last year, (as she does every year,) my cognition professor did something incredible. She allowed our class (0f 600+ students) to determine what the material for the last week of the course would be. We held an in-class vote on it, and eventually the topic of Autism won out.

So why am I pointing this out? Well, according to SDT (self-determination theory), there are countless benefits to giving people choices when they’re completing an activity. In Why We Do What We Do, Edward Deci writes about a study he did on this effect. All participants were given the change to work on a set of puzzles. However, participants in the experimental group were offered a choice about which puzzles to work on, while those in the control group were assigned particular puzzles. As a result, those in the experimental condition (1) spent more time playing with the puzzles and (2) reported liking them more.

As Deci goes on explaining himself, I see snippets of what my cognition teacher did, and the ramifications of it:

“The opportunity to make even these small choices had made a difference in their experience and strengthened their intrinsic motivation. … People who were asked to do a particular task but allowed the freedom of having some say in how to do it were more fully engaged by the activity. …

Providing choice is a central feature in supporting a person’s autonomy. It is thus important that people in positions of authority begin to consider how to provide more choice. Even in crowded classrooms, fast-paced offices, or harried doctors’ offices there are ways, and the more creative one is, the more possibilities one will find. Why not give students choice about what field trips to take and what topics to write their papers about, for example? …

[Meaningful choice] encourages people to fully endorse what they are doing; it pulls them into the activity and allows them to feel a greater sense of volition; it decreases their alienation.

In all of my time going through schooling (and that’s 17 years and counting!), I have never seen a teacher give students choice in such a manner. Teachers often let students choose what topic to do their assignments on, but they never let them determine the content of their lectures.

For thinking creatively and democratically, and for proving that education reforms can take place even in large, alienating lecture hall classes, this action my cognition teacher took deserves her the title of education trailblazer!

Bird courses, as an example of extrinsic motivation

Many university students pick their elective courses based on how easy they are. Any time a course becomes significantly easier than the rest on campus, it starts to become known as a “bird course.” For example, in the university where I’m studying, some of the most well-known “bird courses” are “Natural Disasters” and “The Art of Listening.” These courses quickly become really popular, because hey, who wouldn’t want to raise their GPA?

But this, to me, is one of the effects of students being externally motivated – how they’re being motivated to act by grades, rather than by the course material itself. Consequently, thousands of students end up taking courses that aren’t very meaningful to them, and that aren’t in line with their life goals and interests. To put it bluntly, it wastes the students’ time and energy, as well as the schools’.

In order to behave in an intrinsically motivated fashion, a student has to work against the system, rather than with it. They have to reassure themselves that “even if I don’t do well, it’s OK, because I’m going to learn a lot of meaningful information.”

So how do we fix this?

This is much easier said than done. In an ideal world, we would give students credits for being more or less interested and/or personally invested in their courses. But then, there’d be nothing stopping students from claiming to be 100% intrinsically motivated 100% of the time. And we could resort to lie detector tests to sort that out, but of course, that’s just ridiculous and invasive!

Psychologists have actually found many, many ways to test someone’s level of intrinsic motivation on any given task. For instance, you can have a person perform an activity for a specific period of time. And then, once that time is up, you give the person “free time” to do whatever they please. The more the person continues to spend their time on the first activity, the more that person is said to be intrinsically motivated.

This could be successfully applied to a school setting, but definitely NOT if it affects students’ grades. Because the minute they perceive that this test will affect their grade, they will spend all of their “free time” doing their activity. So the problem is not being able to track intrinsic motivation. The problem is when we try to use intrinsic motivation as a diagnostic tool, in order to determine a person’s grade, or to reward or punish them in any, shape, or form. Because rewards and punishments are just that – extrinsic motivators!

“Making room” for intrinsic motivation

So the solution then is not to track intrinsic motivation, but to make room for it. To give students a space (and resources) where they can pursue their interests, without having to be obsessed about their transcript, their resume, or “what a future employer/school will think about this.”

And there are many ways to go about doing this. One of such solutions is actually one that’s already in place in some schools here in North America: pass/fail courses. Here, as long as a student passes the course, it will show up as a “pass” on their transcript. The specific grade they get in the course will not affect their GPA. This solution is easier to implement than some of the other ones I will present in the future, because it fits so nicely into the rest of the traditional (and completely outdated!) system. It doesn’t go far enough in my opinion, but it’s a start, and it’s headed in the right direction.

We need to expand the pass/fail system to high school and CEGEP levels, and properly explain it within the context of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation to students. I have no idea why these concepts have been around for over 40 years, and yet the vast majority of students have never been taught them, even though (1) they spend over 4500 hours sitting in class – what, we never had the chance to tell them about this even once? (2) they spend over 4500 hours sitting in class – these concepts are so prevalent and relevant in their lives!!

Conclusions:

  1. “Bird courses” are a prime example of extrinsically motivated students.
  2. Intrinsic motivation can be measured, but not if the person knows that they will receive a reward and/or punishment as a result of the measurement’s outcome.
  3. Tracking students’ intrinsic motivation (in the “non-contingent” manner) will not decrease it, but nor will it increase it. In order to foster intrinsic motivation, you need to “make room” for it (in terms of space, time, and resources).
  4. One (but definitely not the only) way to “make room” for intrinsic motivation is to use and properly explain the pass/fail system.

The Hole-in-the-Wall project, as an example of intrinsic motivation

[cnnvideo url='http://edition.cnn.com/video/#/video/world/2009/02/22/sidner.india.slumdog.inspiration.cnn' inline='true']

The Hole-in-the-Wall project was dreamed up by Dr. Sugata Mitra, a scientist in Delhi. He wondered, “what would happen if you stuck a computer in a wall in a poor neighbourhood, and let children have free access to it with no supervision?’

The computer was an instant hit with the kids. There was always a line-up for it! The children taught themselves to not only use the computer, but to play the educational games installed on it.

“Now, there are 48 of these across Delhi, and the idea has caught on across the world.”

This is an example of how children really are intrinsically motivated to learn and become educated. You see, no one ever forced them to use the computer, and the children received no external rewards or grades or gold stars for playing the games. But yet, many of them keep coming back to it, again and again, and day after day. “Amazing,” eh?

On a personal level, this is something that I’d like to do someday – something really awesome like this that imparts the gift and the joy of learning to youth.

To learn more about the Hole-in-the-Wall Education Ltd, visit http://www.hole-in-the-wall.com

What students and teachers are really thinking about

People often talk about what we learn in school, and offer suggestions on how to change or upgrade our schools’ curriculum. (I, for one, have several recommendations on this front. More on those in the future!) But I have yet to see someone outline a step-by-step process of schooling that students go through in our system. So here’s my first attempt at it.

Let’s look at the process of what goes on when a student writes an essay for school.

Note: I’m saying “essay” here, but you can replace this with “research paper,” “project,” “lab report,” or any other long piece of text that a student is asked to write.

  1. The teacher explains the instructions of the essay to the class.
  2. The student writes the essay.
  3. (optional) The student visits/emails/calls the teacher because they have questions about the essay.
  4. The teacher corrects the essay.
  5. The teacher hands the essay back to the student and the student reviews their essay.
  6. (optional) The teacher and student sometimes meet to discuss the essay.
  7. The essay is put away and rarely (if ever) looked at again. Either,

a) The student throws it away at the end of the school year.
b) The teacher stores it, and then shreds it after a few years.
c) The student stores it in their room, closet, or basement. They usually never look at it again, except on occasion, when they feel like reminiscing.

Alright, so what’s on their minds?

Let’s look at this process from the perspective of moment-by-moment consciousness. In other words, what are the students and teachers thinking about during each of these stages? What’s occupying their minds? What’s motivating them to act?

  1. The teacher explains the instructions of the essay to the class.
    They describes the main purposes of the essay, and how it fits into the curriculum, and this is great. But it doesn’t last very long. The discussion quickly segways into grading, rules, timing.
    Student questions revolve around grading:
    “How many pages long should it be?”, “Do we need a cover page?”, “What’s the late penalty?” etc.
  2. The student writes the essay.
    Their primary goal here is to get a good grade.
  3. (optional) The student visits/emails/calls the teacher because they have questions about the essay.
    Their questions usually revolve around optimizing their grade. Because, after all, the students who get the best grades are the ones who are able to “psych out” their teacher a bit.
  4. The teacher corrects the essay.
    While they’re reading, they’re mainly focusing on how well they hold up against the criteria that they previously established. (Granted, I’ve personally only ever had one experience with grading papers, but I can attest that was the #1 thing on my mind the entire time I was correcting.)
  5. The teacher hands the essay back to the student and the student reviews their essay.
    The student looks through the paper to make sure that they got a fair grade. They make sure the teacher added up the points correctly. Many of them only look at the questions/parts where they lost points. They don’t even care to look at what they did right, because hey, as long as you got the credit, what else matters??
  6. (optional) The teacher and student sometimes meet to discuss the essay.
    Most of the time, the student is here to contest the parts of the essay they think were wrongly graded as incorrect/poor.
  7. The essay is put away and rarely (if ever) looked at again.

Notice how at every step of the process, everyone’s main focus is on the grading of the essay. De jure, grades are supposed to be a means to an end, but de facto, the subject material is treated as the means, while the grades is treated like the end. As John Holt puts it, “We encourage [students] to feel that the end and aim of all they do in school is nothing more than to get a good mark on a test, or to impress someone with what they seem to know.”

Caveats

Now, admittedly the above analysis makes a lot of sweeping generalizations.

1. First of all, students actually do spend a lot of time thinking about the course material. It’s not like it’s being ignored or anything! And some of these essays, and teacher-student conversations can and do get very deep.

I would argue, however, that the breadth and depth of their contemplation is only as deep as the grading asks of them. Most students are very busy, and their grades in their other classes would suffer if they went deeper or more broad then what is required of them. This only gets worse in university, when students are pressured to read more and write more in a shorter amount of time. The pressure to do well also increases, as students are now working towards a GPA, and are facing tougher “competition” among their classmates. Then, there are even less opportunities for deeper thinking and creative insights.

Some schools pride themselves on how they set “high standards” for their students, by requiring them to do more, read more, and memorize more. But ironically, these “higher standards” often lead to lower quality education.

2. Second of all, there are also individual differences between students. Some will be more intrinsically motivated in each subject than others. And that’s to be accepted, understood, and even celebrated in my opinion. But that doesn’t take away from how, I believe, the dominant culture among students is to be grade-focused and extrinsically motivated.

3. The second diagram is called an “ideal” for a reason. Reaching this ideal is easier said than done, and it’s impractical for it to be reached 100% of the time. But that’s OK, and it doesn’t take away from us striving towards that ideal, letting students know about this ideal, and reminding students about this ideal when times get rough or boring.