Quiz lottery

In the March issue of NEA Today magazine, a high school Spanish teacher writes in:

I use a lottery to reward homework completion. All my students write their names on slips of paper. Whenever there is a quiz, I check back over the past five days, and those students who have completed all the assignments in that time get their names put in the lottery. As the students wait for the quiz, I dramatically select a name and that student doesn’t have to take the quiz. Homework completion has shot up in all my classes and so have grades.

So should we be

  1. congratulating this teacher for finding an innovative way to get her students to complete their homework?,
  2. worried that students don’t understand basic principles of statistical probability?, or
  3. chagrined that students are quite eager to get out of an opportunity to assess their learning and progress in Spanish?

8 Responses to “Quiz lottery”

  1. Scott,
    Have you read, Activating the Desire to Learn by Solli (ASCD, 2007)?
    This is exactly the type of teaching methods he is advocating against. He postulates that we learn best when we are intrinsically motivated. Here’s an excerpt from his book:

    The reward/punishment paradigm, based on coercion and fear, has a ceiling of compliance. To achieve the highest quality learning, we need a model that is congruent with internal control psychology, a model that respects human beings as the active, goal-driven, internally motivated beings that we are. Time and again, research suggests that when we are discussing the highest levels of achievement, we are driven from the inside out. When we create classrooms and schools built on the principles of internal control psychology, we give our students a chance to excel and foster excellence in education. (p.28)

    In the instructional method that you have cited above, the teacher is rewarding students who are motivated by free time; they are working harder to “earn the right to avoid academic work! With teacher approval! He’s not motivated to learn more..” (p. 46)
    This type of tactic actually has unintended consequences. As soon as the reward is taken away, students will revert back to their previous homework habits. This method teaches kids that learning has no intrinsic value, which is actually an “anti-learning” outcome.
    This book has caused another paradigm shift for me with my work with kids and helped me to see that ALL behavior is purposeful, even inappropriate behavior, and is rooted in an attempt to fulfill one of five needs. For example, every time I tell my own children, first do this, THEN you can earn or do (fill in the blank), I am devaluing the first activity. Never realized how often I do this!
    I highly recommend this book. I’m hoping to write more about it on my blog in the near future. Have you read it?

  2. Sorry, the book’s author is Bob Sullo. My mistake.

  3. Interesting points Karen. But at the same time it appears that the teacher is having some success if grades overall are going up. The question I ask myself is “is the goal of the course grades or learning?” Missing one quiz is not likely to have much impact on a semester grade. On the other hand doing homework all week, assuming appropriate homework that is contributing to learning, is likely to have some lasting impact on learning. So I am not ready to judge this teacher or their students on the limited information I have in front of me.

  4. Alfred, I don’t know if I’m ready to judge or not either. However, I will raise this question for consideration: is the overall course grade a more accurate assessment of student mastery of Spanish than the quiz(zes)?

  5. Ok, so I’m a Spanish teacher.

    I give lots of quizzes, online. They do a good job of checking for whether a student recalls recently learned vocabulary.

    That’s only one part of my assessment portfolio, though.

    My other assessments focus on digital stories and a couple decidedly non-techno projects so that I can hopefully develop quite the authentic profile of each student. Do I ever let them exempt a quiz if they’ve done all their homework? Well, I don’t do homework.

    Seems to me we’re putting a lot of emphasis on the grade by judging her system. Should the students do the homework based on some detailed intrinsic motivation system? Yup. Is that the reality? Nope. Should she even give homework? Debatable. Are there other ways to check for student learning than a quiz? Most certainly.

    Ultimately, the way the questions are framed slants the entire conversation towards the idea that her idea is questionable.

    Current academic research delves into the question of motivation heavily. I personally do not give homework, because I feel like if I am properly motivating my students than they will spend time inside our Moodle taking practice quizzes and completing other fun stuff to help them stay current with the language and continue their learning, but on their own terms. Isn’t that what this is all about? Students being able to learn on their terms when not in school (skipping discussion on in school, just not reality now)? If that is the case, I love it when I can see my kids have spent hours in the Moodle just playing, and learning.

    It’s the theory of motivation that needs question, not the symptom of it that manifests itself in the lottery in question.

    Chris Craft

  6. Chris, thanks for the thoughtful comment.

    Obviously I do think that this teacher’s practices are at least somewhat questionable because they go against everything we know about motivation theory (of course so does much of schooling, both K-12 AND postsecondary). I believe that assessment should be authentic and meaningful and individualized and maybe even self-directed (like what you describe). If it is, students won’t be so eager to avoid assessment but rather will be eager to check their understanding and mastery. Is this unrealistic? I don’t think so. Is it commonplace? Definitely not. As a graduatel-level instructor, do I need to do a better job of this myself? Absolutely.

    The systemic question is why most instructors’ assessment practices aren’t more in line with best practice. I read assessment experts like Rick Stiggins, Dylan Wiliam, and James Popham, or I read motivation experts like Edward Deci (and, arguably, Alfie Kohn and Bob Sullo), and I recognize that we have a very long way to go on this front. It’s a damning indictment of our teacher/administrator preparation programs and/or school district professional development programs that they haven’t done a better job with this.

    I confess that you lost me with your last paragraph. Are you saying that we should be challenging the teacher’s underlying beliefs about student motivation rather than her quiz lottery, which is just the external manifestation of her belief system? If so, I agree with you wholeheartedly.

  7. Hmm, as always your post gives me lots to ponder…

    I spent most of the early part of my teaching career in a community day school. California does not classify behavior/conduct disorder students as special education students, so they have created these schools for students whose behavior is not compatible with a regular classroom, but all you need a is a regular credential to teach there. A big part of what I did was based heavily on behavior modification, and it has colored my approach to teaching, and classroom management since. My understanding and experience is that behavior modification is reasonably effective with CD kids. It’s not a magic bullet, but depending on their issues, intrinsic systems don’t work very well for them at all.

    I’ve had this argument with a co-worker who is adamant about intrinsic motivation. This year she has a class with a lot of CD students and is asking me for advice. OTOH, I always thought of myself as primarily a behaviorist, and I’ve discovered that my students do have a sense of community and belonging in my class that shows intrinsic motivation. I just didn’t “plan” and think about the things I did to create that as much as some of the things I did to modify behavior. I’m shedding more and more of the behavior modification as I teach longer, and have fewer CD students.

    I think that schools of education generally frown on many of the systems I have used over time, and I’ve had master teachers tell me I shouldn’t do this or that. I think that teaching in real life pushes us towards using behavior mod as solutions, and it does work, but as you say, you hit a wall. I don’t like schools of education telling teaching candidates to NEVER use it, etc. because they may need to use behavior modification. It’s usually one of the FIRST modifications on a behavior plan for Special Education students. So they get to a job, and have a really difficult student, and then they’re told by Special Education, implement a “contract” and it’s hard to make that shift in thinking/teaching. I think that it’s also easy for those of us who do use this to over rely or over do it, and that’s what I tend to reflect on in my work more and more as time goes on.

  8. I’ve found over the years there is no magic bullet. I teach mostly at risk-kids, and I think that sometimes the problem is that kids see no relevance in what the system expects them to do. They tell me that and their behaviour tells me that. Fortunately things in my board are changing and there are more and more programs being created that the kids find relevant.

    One of the most successful programs at our school is the co-op program. Kids who bomb in the classroom often do well in their co-op placement. I encourage my students to take co-op either part time for two credits or full time for four credits. I see a huge change in some of the kids after they have done a term in co-op. Being in the workplace helps some kids see the relevance of school and their behaviour changes.
    I don’t think there is one answer. I think there are different answers for different kids. What works with one kid doesn’t necessarily work with another. What works for one teacher doesn’t necessarily work for another.
    I think that the Spanish teacher who uses the lottery is successful because she is developing a positive relationship with the kids by having the lottery and the excitement it generates and it is this positive relationship that makes the kids want to do better in her class. Kids tell me all the time that they hate teacher so and so and they are not going to do any work for that teacher because they hate him or her.

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