Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation
Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation
As we observe Shavuot tonight through Shabbat, G!D-willing with family and friends, I’d like to share with you what I learned at the Jewish Education Innovation Challenge (JEIC) retreat that I was invited to attend last week, and how it directly relates to perceptions of Judaism and Torah in our day schools.
Initiated in 2012 by the Mayberg Foundation and supported through multiple philanthropic partnerships, JEIC is a bold initiative and an invitation-only conference to radically improve the quality of Jewish education in day schools across North America. It brings together educators, funders, influencers and consumers to pursue lasting school culture change through innovation, experimentation, and collaboration.
It was at the retreat when Rabbi Shmuel Feld, founding director of JEIC, in partnership with Sharon Freundel, managing director of JEIC, introduced the following idea.
For the past 2000+ years, the Jewish people have been educating its (male) children* in Hebrew, Tanakh (Bible) and Talmud as well as other Judaic subjects, for free-- an amazing example of the earliest “public school” education available worldwide.
And during all that time, no one sent home ABCDF grades on a report card. That kind of extrinsic motivation was apparently not necessary.
Yet, in the past 100 years, day schools in North America and around the world all began to use the ABCDF grading system, just like they do for secular subjects.
Some schools even apply the grading system to rate how a child is doing in tefillah / prayer services!
Could this be an example of cultural assimilation gone bad?
Here are the words of Manette Mayberg, Trustee of the Mayberg Foundation for your consideration:
“It is inconsistent with Jewish wisdom to judge critically a Jew’s ability to learn Torah subjects. A student labeled anything but an ‘A’ in a Jewish subject will internalize a view of him or herself as less-than-great at Jewish study, or worse, a less-than-great Jew.”
Wow, now there’s a horrifying thought— in seeking to make Judaic studies as important and serious as secular studies, we may inadvertently be causing Jewish children to:
(A) Think of themselves as B or C or (G-D forbid) D Jews
(B) See themselves as less-than-great at Jewish study, which should be a life-long, enjoyable endeavor
(C) Hate Jewish studies because of the stress associated with grading
(D) Never want to engage in Jewish learning again after they finish school
These are exactly the opposite outcomes of what we want to achieve by sending our children to Jewish day school!
So you might be thinking:
“Rabbi Efrat, what’s the alternative? If we don’t give grades in Judaic studies, the kids won’t take it seriously. Then the teachers will suffer their bad behavior, and parents will complain they don’t understand how their child is doing in class.”
My response after the JEIC retreat…
Given the potential damage described above, how can we not try to find alternative ways to assess our students? How can we not even TRY?!?
As it states on the JEIC website, we can all agree that we can’t just take away grades; we need to determine how to continue to:
- Hold students accountable for doing their work and making progress toward mastery
- Keep students fully engaged
- Accurately report to students and their parents on their progress
- Generate intrinsic motivation in students
In fact, there are plenty of ways we can motivate children intrinsically, without resorting to the ABCDF grading system, as several schools and communities demonstrated during the retreat.
If you are as intrigued by the idea of not grading Torah, Tefillah or any Judaic subject as I am, then please take a few minutes of your time (ok, 19 minutes, and well worth it!) to view this video entitled:
Unmarked: Amplifying Jewish Potential Through Alternative Assessment