Start every pupil on A grade as motivation - report

Published on Friday, 14 March 2014 10:15
Written by Daniel Mason

School pupils could be given an A grade at the start of term and have to work to maintain it throughout the year, according to a new report on motivation in the classroom.

People tend to be more enthusiastic about avoiding losing something than acquiring it from scratch, concludes the study by the Royal Society of Arts thinktank, which was published today.

Everyone starts with an A suggests teachers could take advantage of this 'loss aversion' by handing pupils a top grade or gold stars from the outset and asking them to continuously improve – or lose marks if they do not.

Produced by the RSA's Social Brain Centre, the paper also recommends replacing the word 'fail' with 'not yet' when grading work, and encourages teachers to praise pupils for effort rather than ability.

And it adds that views of green space can reduce mental fatigue and aggression in the classroom, while poorly maintained school buildings increase students' impulsivity and short-term thinking.

The RSA described the advice as "surprising yet simple low-cost measures that could be introduced by any school to boost young people's expectations, resilience and enjoyment".

The thinktank's associate director of education, Louise Bamfield, said: "We're not saying that these measures represent a silver bullet or that they will magically fix all the problems teachers face on a day-to-day basis.

"What they do provide, however, is more than a 'nice to have' optional bag of tricks. The ideas in this report include simple, low cost interventions that when added together could have a significant impact on the relationship between teachers and learners."

Nathalie Spencer, a senior researcher at the Social Brain Centre, said she hoped the report would "start a discussion amongst teachers about how they might apply behavioural insights in the classroom".

"From improving effort and enjoyment levels of underperforming pupils, to understanding educators' assessment of pupils and the very nature of education reform itself, the application of behavioural insights to education practice may help the system to reduce the gap in attainment between rich and poor," she said.

However, Chris McGovern, chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, criticised the report as "the sort of woolly thinking that came out of the loony left during the 1960s and 70s".

Quoted by the Telegraph, he added: "Pupils like to see progress. Giving them an A grade and telling them the only way is backwards isn't going to motivate them. It's unkind and unrealistic. These people have lost all sense of reality."

He claimed "trendy ideas" like those promoted by the RSA had "betrayed generations of children".

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