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by Erica Fischer on Mar 27, 2012

How to Support Students Motivated by Grades

Hello everyone, and welcome back to #langchat! We had an interesting discussion last week on Twitter, and we’ve included a detailed summary below for those of you who may have missed the chat. Our topic for the evening was how to support students motivated by grades in a society that expects grades for everything.

Thank you to all our participants for the evening, and a special thanks to our moderators, Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell (@SECottrell) and Don Doehla (@dr_dmd). If you weren’t able to participate but wanted to, please feel free to comment below.

What’s So Bad About Grades?

@SECottrell posed the question: what is so bad about grades? What do participants think about grades in today’s classroom?

Several participants expressed their beliefs that grades are nothing more than artificial constructions to replace real, constructive feedback. @jas347 lamented that often grading feels more like pointing out what students don’t know than what they do.

@SECottrell dislikes the typical grading system because many grades are just arbitrary numbers that don’t represent anything students have learned, such as participation grades or exit tickets.

Why Are Grades Essential?

Many scholarships and other tuition aids are based on student grades, which causes students and parents to stress about receiving high marks. Several participants expressed regret that grades are tied to such awards.

Because the system is such, students are now motivated by grades and try to achieve the As that they need to satisfy parents and get scholarships. This leads to students who don’t pay attention to their proficiency levels or improving abilities. Instead, students look for the letter grade. Some students also shy away from more advanced courses for fear of damaging their grade point average.

Working with Students Motivated by Grades

Many students are motivated by the current grading system. They quest for the A at all times, and get involved in the class when the grading system is clear and easy to understand. How do we support these students?

Several participants mentioned that they try to motivate students with other strategies in order to take the focus off the grade and encourage students to continue their studies into advanced courses. @placido believes that relationships motivate students better than grades ever will. @dr_dmd adds that engaging kids is very important. This will cause students to be less motivated by grades and more by creative opportunities.

Providing students with choices in which assignments to work on goes a long way toward increasing student motivation. Several participants mentioned that they’ve seen remarkable increases in student motivation when students are permitted to choose from several different projects.

  • Participants cautioned that care should be taken when offering students choices, though. Try not to offer any “cop out” choices that students might choose. Focus on varying activities based on complexity, not on difficulty (@trescolumnae).

Students who are motivated by grades might get frustrated by assignments and projects with a minimal focus on grades. If they can’t see that the activity will impact their grade, they’re not motivated to work on it. To get around this, @placido has a lot of honest talks with her students. She’ll explain why they’re working on a project, what they hope to achieve and how it will impact their future language skills.

Students also occasionally complain about grades that they receive. This is especially prevalent when teachers change the system and attempt grading systems different from the norm. Many participants expressed that they avoid complaints by ensuring that they have good rubrics and tie the grades securely to the rubrics. This makes it very clear how a grade is obtained and linked to performance.

  • When designing your rubric, steer clear of discussion of grades. Instead, focus on proficiency descriptions (@SECottrell). Using “I Can” statements is also very helpful (@dr_dmd).

What Can Replace Grades?

The grading system is often dictated by administrators, so ditching it completely is probably not an option for most teachers. However, @SraCasey believes that if the system decides the options, it’s up to teachers to adapt everything at their end. If you prefer to use other, possibly more constructive, mechanisms to rate students, what is out there?

Several participants expressed that they find a good rubric useful. @dr_dmd says that when students ask him about grades, he’ll ask them to look at the rubric with him and rate themselves.

@dr_dmd gives students “reflection guides” to accompany project presentations. Students then fill out the rubric for themselves and their teammates.

@SraCasey believes that test grades should not be final: a temporary assessment of progress rather than a firm grade. She suggests allowing retakes. @SraSpanglish says to use caution with retakes, however. Some students will abuse the retake ability by not worrying about the test the first time.

@nnaditz allows late homework for full credit, but students have to perform the work in the room. This encourages them to ask for help from the teacher, and prevents simply copying.

@nnaditz divides her grade books into language skills (listening, speaking, reading and writing in the target language) rather than the traditional divisions of homework, tests, participation, etc. @placido uses the categories of presentational, interpersonal and interpretive.

@SECottrell took a small step this year by removing grades from student copies of their assessments, in order to reduce student reliance on grades. Students now have to look online to see their grade.


Thank you to all our participants for so freely sharing your tips and thoughts on working with grades in the classroom. If you weren’t able to make it on Thursday, please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below — we’d love to hear from you.

If you’re interested to see the entire archive, please go to our Google Docs page. Please also feel free to join us on Thursday for our next #langchat discussion.

#LangChat is an independent group of world-language education professionals who come together every week via Twitter to share ideas and discuss pressing issues in the world of education. Check out the #LangChat wiki for more information about our goals and the team behind it all here. These weekly discussion summaries are sponsored by Calico Spanish as a service to the world-language community.

Elementary in Spanish
Erica Fischer
Erica is the founder and CEO of Calico Spanish. Her passion for teaching her own children to speak Spanish led her to create Calico Spanish. Our mission is to give all children the opportunity to learn to speak real Spanish for life.

One comment

  • Students as teachers is an idnercible thing win, win for elder and younger participants. Sometimes the younger kids can teach the older ones a thing or two as well. Once, we taught a Kindergarten class the Macarena de los meses and then they sang their months song in English for us. Another class shoed us their sign language for the days of the week after we taught them our jours de la semaine song looking forward to this year’s skype calls and classroom visits!By the way I think the single best way to advocate on behalf of World Language education is to ROCK IT in the classroom and cultivate excited, engaged, fluent speakers I am excited to be on this journey with you to become the best teacher I can possibly be. #langchat ROCKS our Sunny Earth!~Audrey

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