10 Ways To Push Students to Focus on Learning First, And Not The Grade

10 Ways To Push Students to Focus on Learning First, And Not The Grade

We’ve all had a student entirely miss a learning opportunity while they grapple for an extra point or two on an assignment or test. For most teachers, replaying those moments make us cringe, and even a little sad, that the kid is missing the “true” learning in the moment. How many times have we found ourselves saying, “It’s not about the grade…”. But for many kids, it has become about the grade, at the expense of the “real” learning. Here’s how to bring kids back to loving learning more than those few points:

#1 Let them pick!

Daniel Pink, motivation expert, suggests autonomy as a way to get kids motivated outside of the grade. “We’re not talking about a wild and wooly free-for-all where everyone does whatever they want whenever they want to do it,” he says. But you can give them choice over:

  • What they study
  • Which projects they do
  • What they read
  • How they do their work

#2 Teach the difference between learning and performing.

Kids should know the difference, and know which really matters.

  • A learning goal might be: “We will be readers who can make predictions about the text.”
  • A performance goal would be “I’m going to get an A in reading class.” 

#3 Show a video clip they can’t stop watching.

Pique their interest in learning how something really works by getting out of the textbook and into how modern kids often learn on their own: YouTube. Look for videos that are secretly teaching the how and why behind a concept, while also entertaining.

#4 Skip the “point grabbing” conversation.

What if grades were more…fixable, and less permanent?! (*gasp*) You can facilitate this by making assignments redoable.

#5 Not too big and not too small – the Goldilocks principle

Pink refers to the Goldilocks task for the perfect assignment – something that isn’t too hard or too easy, but just right. These sweet spots help kids get lost in finding solutions and answers rather than focusing on the grade.

#6 Praise “failing up”

“Failing up” is the idea that failing isn’t an ending point. Instead, it’s the perfect starting point to grow. Here are some ways to help students be okay with “failing.”

  • Celebrate each others’ achievements when it comes to improving
  • Look at failing as a means to finding a new and better solution
  • Avoid praising getting it right the first time

#7 Try a new learning style

How do kids really connect with new information? Help them find out through:

#8 Say loud and proud, “I’m not sure!”

Have your students seen you not know something, and then work to find out the answer? Modeling this process can be invaluable to teaching how to learn, rather than expecting them to know how. Say, “Let’s find out together.”

#9 Get pumped up about learning yourself

Make sure kids get to see what an excited learner looks like! Whether you are on a mission to perfect a chicken wing recipe, reading all about building a tiny house to save the environment, or getting to know how the teenage mind works, tell them about it. 

#10 Create space for them to share when they’ve lost interest

It’s not super fun to learn every single thing, and that’s okay. React positively when a kid says they aren’t into something anymore, and help them change course.

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10 Ways To Push Students to Focus on Learning First, And Not The Grade

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Alexandra Frost

Alexandra Frost is a freelance journalist and high school publications teacher in Cincinnati, OH. She's worked with other publications such as Glamour, Women's Health, Reader's Digest, and more. She has three young sons under age four and has been teaching high school for ten years. She encourages her students to develop communication skills, independence, and a passion for writing in their authentic writers' voices. To connect or read more of her work please her website or follow her on social media: Twitter Instagram Linked In.

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