Reflective Blog

Where has the time gone?
..Seriously, this semester has flown by!

I have to admit when I heard what the module contained in terms of work, I was a little scared.
A whole 500 words a week PLUS 7 comments and a videoed presentation (which Jesse might be watching) every other week wasn’t particularly what I had expected when signing up.
However, as cliche as it sounds, I truly did  learn in this module and I am very glad I made the decision to stick with it!

What I have learnt..

How to become a better writer – Having to write a 500 word blog each week really gets you thinking about style and pazazz, as well as how to use the content effectively. There were quite a few times when I’d end up having to cut a 1000+ blog down by half!

Referencing – Getting out there onto the WWW and having to carefully select and find studies you need as supporting evidence is a skill I thought I already had.. until this module! I have found so many shortcuts and handy websites to journals, citing help etc. Great for the dissertation!

Information is Awesome! – There is so much out there on the internet and self-teaching is something I never knew would have such a huge benefit on my learning. Being able to discuss real things (not just who you thought was great on the x-factor last night) with my peers was really helpful too and having an opinion on certain topics actually made me realise how much I have learnt over the last few years at Uni.

Confidence – Having to stand up every other week and present a 10 minute speech seems daunting. Once you reach the end of this module, you’ll be able to do it with your eyes closed. It’s a great life skill (as well as being handy for the dissertation presentation).

I have loved..

The freedom – being able to decide what you learn is really good. Not everyone is interested in the same thing so being able to choose where you start off is not only interesting, but intrinsically motivational (the best kind). A lot of the time I would read other people’s blogs and form my own opinion on them, often becoming interested in something  previously had no interest in, which was also really cool.

No boring lectures – I’m not going to lie, I sometimes sit in lectures and zone out. Okay, it probably happens more than sometimes. It’s so empowering and 100x better to be able to listen to what you want to listen to, so that information is actually retained!

A welcome change – I love a mix up and this module has served that well!

I would change..

To be honest, there is not much I would change about the module at all. I learnt a lot and although I didn’t get A*s in every single blog, the set up of the module really helps you to self evaluate and decipher why. I actually improved as time passed and that’s what I think a module should allow you to do.

To everyone else on the module, it has been a pleasure reading your blogs over the past semester and thank you for the useful and valuable comments you have left on mine.



The Grading Synthesis Blog

Its a wrap!
.. that time flew by! I hope you have enjoyed my last four blogs discussing the impact of grading for the student and society alike. In this synthesis blog I will recap the main features of my past blogs, include the research that I found most interesting and combine this with some new literature to produce a summary.

Past Blogs

Firstly, why do we actually use grades right now? Well.. The standardised nature of testing and therefore grading makes it very easy for comparison not only between pre- and post- self testing results, but also between peers, counties and even countries. This then can easily be converted into a form of currency, a letter for entry if you like, into higher education and employment. However, these reasons, as I discovered, are not necessarily beneficial to the learner and are instead society’s easy way to categorise and make proceeds a lot less time consuming.

What affects grades?
Socio-economic and parenting background has found to affect the grade students gain through testing. As Piaget (1932) stated, parenting styles have affects on children’s development alone and negativity has shown to have detrimental effects on primary school students (Prior et al, 1999), as well as high school students [Dornbusch et al (1987)]. Different class backgrounds have also been shown to affect grade results, through value of grades to parents (Rosen, 1956) and therefore the reinforcement provided to the students (Gonzalez & Blanco, 1991).

The exams themselves are also predictors of grade results and I explored the difference between MCQ and essay writing tests in one of my blogs. As far as MCQ’s are concerned, I did find a number of positive effects including; adaptability, reliability, little predictability among others, for which grades are provided. Essay writing tests also had positive effects, which included using higher cognitive skills being put to the test (O’Hara & Sternberg, 2001) and being able to measure a more efficient method of study (Mayer, 1975). However, these positive effects also come with negative ones, which I never got round to exploring in my blogs, but others have done in the class and they are fairly extensive!

The Positives and Negatives
When I explored the positive aspects of grading, all I could find was weak ones. The use of currency discussed above was one of the main positive reasons. The others included; detection of developmental delays, such as dyslexia that can only really be detected through standardised testing [Catts (1991)]; and extrinsic motivation when other forms of motivation are not available.

The negative aspects hugely outweighed the positive ones. The stress caused through the use of grading has found to be detrimental to learning and motivation, to the point where students give up trying (Martinko & Gardner, 1982). Furthermore, stress has been found to lower capabilities in exam conditions, by preventing a student from showing their true talents. Intrinsic motivation also suffers when grades are in effect. Kuh, 2001 found that students thought it was more important to have a degree title rather than enjoy the information learnt throughout, which means that they motivated for the grade, not because they want to. Creativity also has been found to take a knock where grading is concerned. Grades are usually emitted from standardised tests, which makes it extremely hard for subjectivity to shine through. Westby & Dawson (1995) even found that teachers favourite students had the lowest creativity scores, meaning that creativity features are almost frowned upon!

The Resolution
In the last talk I gave, I mentioned that I do not agree in the handing out of grades due to all the areas discussed, but I do believe that students should be measured (especially when young) to assess their progress made. However after extensive research, I could not find a solution to this issue that would satisfy both society’s currency need and all the negative side effects of grades. The closest I came to finding a solution was Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives; in which he states there are six domains and therefore ‘levels’ of understanding a student can have of a subject, which teachers/employers can use to shape questions to test knowledge without having to provide grades.

I have really enjoyed exploring all areas of grading, but am still annoyed I couldn’t think of a solution to the problems I could clearly see were in place.. but I guess that’s why something different hasn’t been implemented already! I was surprised to find such positive aspects of MCQ exams in the literature, but equally surprised how much creativity is squashed by such standardised testing and therefore grades. Hence, I have also come to realise that most of the negative aspects of grading are actually an extension of standardised testing.

The Grading ‘why?’ Green & Red. Week Seven.

Throughout the grading focused blogs I have explored; a general background, possible factors contributing to level of achievement, what effects grading can have and the positive side of certain tests resulting in grade feedback.
This week I have decided to explore the good versus the bad effects a grade can have.

In the Green corner, we have the positive effects

Developmental delays – 
Catts (1991)
highlights the importance for standardised testing and detecting dyslexia. Dyselxia is not something that can be detected just observing a person’s nature, the definition is soley a reading age that is significantly behind a chronogical age (usually two or more years behind)  (Singleton, 1988). In a busy classroom these defects can often get overlooked by teachers who have 30+ children in the class, so standardised testing allows a grade to be administered that determines whether a child with dyslexia gets the suitable aid to suceed as well as their peers. Without regular measurement (and presuming no parental influence) it would be impossible to see improvement, or judge a child’s needs to keep up with their age group, instead of falling behind (Binder, 1988).

Currency –
As I have mentioned in a previous blog, grades have become a form of currency within society, needed for employment and further educational practices. It is a way for schools and companys to quickly filter the candidates without extensive methods of interview. However, Bishop & Mane (2001) found that achieving high grades was so important for American high school students wanting to attend a good college (university), that they would “switch to the easier history class to get better grades, so my average will be better for college.” Surely this is not good for the student. The current system in the UK for progression from GCSE to A level is not fixed, but usually sixth form or college requires 6 C’s or above. If the grades are not met, you cannot then pursue any job that requires A level or university level education and options become limited to getting a job or going to college to learn a trade (Burnett, 2013)

Motivation (?) –
Sarah, in her blog last week, likened the teacher-student relationship to that of the social exchange theory (Emerson, 1976). The reasoning was that when a student receives a high grade, having put in high studying behaviour, they are more likely to engage in these again as they are praised for their achievement and receive positive reinforcement. This therefore could increase student’s engagement and motivation to study.

In the Red corner, we have the negative effects

Tests can cause stress, anxiety and worry amongst all students due to the pressure of getting a high grade. Zeidner (2007) found that students experience fear, agitated feelings and apprehensiveness just before the exam occurs. Furthermore, it was found that test anxiety causes poor performance in exams and often contributing factors include; ability, gender, and school grade level (Hembree, 1988). This then becomes a vicious circle, as poor performance then causes higher anxiety to the point where sometimes, a child gives up trying to learn (Martinko & Gardner, 1982).

Motivation –
I used motivation as a subheading in the ‘positives’ section. However, I presented it with a question mark because it may not be motivation for the right reasons. Intrinsic motivation is defined as the motivation that comes from within, not altered by external rewards such as money or grades (Ryan & Deci, 2000). In other words, without intrinsic motivation, student’s are motivated for the high grade, not the knowledge, it becomes a chore to learn. It has been found because of the current need for having a university degree, the title is now more important for students than the information learnt on the course (Kuh, 2001). With the current cost of a degree, that’s scary!

As well as these two factors, are the two I have already extensive covered in blogs of their own; creativity and socio-economic background disadvantages, so refer to my past blogs for them.

Green versus Red..?
So it seems that there are lot more reasons not to grade. But that doesn’t necessarily mean we shouldn’t be measuring progress. In my next blog, I will summarise everything I have researched so far (regarding grading) and present a potential solution to the grading problem.



Catts, H. W. (1991). Early identification of dyslexia: Evidence from a follow-up study of speech-language impaired children. Annals of dyslexia, 41(1), 163-177.
Singleton, C. H. (1988). The early diagnosis of developmental dyslexia. Support for Learning, 3(2), 108-121.
Binder, C. (1988). Precision teaching: Measuring and attaining exemplary academic achievement. Youth Policy, 10(7), 12-15.
Bishop, J. H., & Mane, F. (2001). The impacts of minimum competency exam graduation requirements on high school graduation, college attendance and early labor market success. Labour Economics, 8(2), 203-222.
Burnett, J. (2013). How to choose the right subjects at GCSE and A Level. Education UK British Council, PDF.
Emerson, R. (1976). Social Exchange Theory. Annual Review of Sociology, Vol. 2, (1976), 335-362.
Zeidner, M. (2007). Test Anxiety in Educational Contexts: Concepts, Findings. Emotion in education, 165.
Hembree, R. (1988). Correlates, causes, effects, and treatment of test anxiety. Review of educational research, 58(1), 47-77.
Martinko, M. J., & Gardner, W. L. (1982). Learned helplessness: An alternative explanation for performance deficits. Academy of Management Review, 195-204.
Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivations: Classic Definitions and New Directions. Contempory Educational Psychology, 25(1), 54-67.
Kuh, G. D. (2001). Assessing What Really Matters to Student Learning Inside The National Survey of Student Engagement. Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 33(3), 10-17.

The Grading ‘why?’ Let’s not be negative? Week Six.

In the last few blogs I have explored the negative aspects of grades, so this week I have decided to explore the more positive factors of different forms of testing.

The ‘guessing’ test?! I think it’s safe to say that everyone reading this has guessed the answer to at least one MCQ in their life, but how reliable is this technique? Well, if you have four possible answers in a question there is a 25% chance of opting the correct answer; which means the approx probability of scoring 40% on a 10 question paper is 1:5  Probably better to revise, especially if you’re not a first year student. Farthing, Jones & McPhee (1998) decided this was still a fairly high percentage, so developed the Permutational Multiple-Choice Question (PMCQ). Testing of the measure indicated that questions are as good as essay-type questions at discriminating among candidates and probability of getting 40% when guessing was slimmed down to 1:4500. A much lower probability!

But what about the benefits to teaching and learning?
The AQA examining body for GSCEs and A-Levels lists 8 advantages of the MCQ:

Breadth: enables a big range of content to be assessed in a relatively short period of time.

Less Predictability: instead of focused essay questions, MCQs encourage students to learn the whole specification and gain a broader appreciation of the subject, as found in medical students in a clinical based test (Newble & Jaeger, 1983).

Relevance: content-valid MCQ test-scores allow confidence in applicable subject matter being tested.

Adaptability: to measure lower order processing (knowledge recall and comprehension) and higher order processes (application, interpretation, synthesis & analysis). Varying demands can provide opportunities to stretch and challenge the most able to the least able students. Draper (2009) found that deep learning can occur in MCQ revision and practice, through focusing on learning relationships between items rather than on the recall of disconnected facts. He even goes as far as saying there are MCQ methods that trigger subsequent deep learning without direct teacher input, which could be very applicable to the stats testing we had in year one..?

Reliability: objective marking produces highly reliable scores. Well constructed assessments also lead to good test-retest reliability (same test, different situations) and parallel-forms reliability (different versions of a test, same situations) (Nunnally & Bernstein, 1994).

Insight: diagnostic and meaningful sub-scores can be calculated, by organisation of topic area. These can be used by teachers to determine classroom strategies (Goodnough, Perusse, R. A. C. H. E. L. L. E & Erford, 2003)

Differentiation between students:  MCQ assessments that achieve a good spread of candidates along the score continuum enhance our ability to differentiate between students at various levels.

Performance evaluation: easy evaluation of the test allows writers to assess the quality of their questions and to understand how students respond to different questions, to aid development of future tests. Fry (1990) found that peer marking in higher education was possible because of the standardised nature of the MCQ test and this benefitted students further by evaluating peer tests.

‘Thinking caps needed?’ When writing an essay, whether it be under exam conditions or not, I think it is safe to say a lot more depth of research is required than in standard tests. Due to the nature of essay-based tests, it is also safe to say that they are more subjective and often hard to know what the teacher ‘wants’. But it does allow room for the creativity to flow, unlike standardised testing (Bell, 2011).

Steele (1997) provides us with three distinct advantages of the essay-based test:

Higher level cognitive skill: essay’s allow more scope for the writer to expand their knowledge surrounding the subject area. More objective tests can test higher level skills such as application, but the essay-based test allows the room for creativity, organsisation and structural skills to shine through on a personal level (O’Hara & Sternberg, 2001).

Efficient study:
Research has shown that students generally spend less time on rote learning of material when they study for an essay exam rather than MCQ test (Mayer, 1975). This way information is generalised and conceptualised, and facts are used in support rather than on their own.

Individualised instruction: due to the freedom in scope of the essay-based test, the marker is also given a better insight into the understanding the student has of the topic at hand. Therefore, feedback is able to be directed at a more individualistic level, as a more efficient tool for improvement [Weaver, 2006 (NOTE: feedback only helpful when clear and direct, guiding not negative)]

I have to say that I was extremely surprised when researching the positives of these two testing techniques. There seems to be very little evidence for the effectiveness essay-based measurement! The MCQ research also surprised me. I was expecting a wealth of criticism, when infact there was about a 50:50 ratio of good and bad. I’m not convinced that either of these methods are the best way of measuring student’s performance.. but MCQs have risen up in my opinions,


Farthing, D. W., Jones, D. M., & McPhee, D. (1998, August). Permutational multiple-choice questions: an objective and efficient alternative to essay-type examination questions. In ACM SIGCSE Bulletin (Vol. 30, No. 3, pp. 81-85). ACM.

Newble, D. I., & Jaeger, K. (2009). The effect of assessments and examinations on the learning of medical students. Medical education, 17(3), 165-171.

Draper, S. W. (2009), Catalytic assessment: understanding how MCQs and EVS can foster deep learning. British Journal of Educational Technology, 40: 285–293. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8535.2008.00920.x

Nunnally, J. C., & Bernstein, I. H. Psychometric theory. 1994. McGraw, New York.

Goodnough, G., Perusse, R. A. C. H. E. L. L. E., & Erford, B. T. (2003). Developmental classroom guidance. Transforming the school counseling profession, 121-151.

Fry, S. A. (1990). Implementation and evaluation of peer marking in higher education. Assessment and evaluation in higher education, 15(3), 177-189.Bell, S. (2011). Creativity and the Classroom. Kansas English, 7.

O’Hara, L. A., & Sternberg, R. J. (2001). It doesn’t hurt to ask: Effects of instructions to be creative, practical, or analytical on essay-writing performance and their interaction with students’ thinking styles. Creativity Research Journal, 13(2), 197-210.

Mayer, R. E. (1975). Information processing variables in learning to solve problems. Review of Educational Research, 525-541.

Weaver, M. R. (2006) Do student’s value feedback? Student perceptions of tutors’ written responses. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 379-394.

The Grading ‘why?’ Stopping Creativity Week Five.

This week I decided to home in why creativity is important and why grades may be stopping the process.

What is creativity?
As Amabile (1989) questions; how is it different from talent or intelligence? And why is it so important? Well as Young (1985) highlights, the word comes from a mixture of Latin and Greek meaning ‘to make’ and ‘to fulfill’, respectively. Maslow, Maslow & Maslow (1968) proposed, through the theory of self-actualisation, that ‘creativity is the actualising of our potential’ and is the ‘expression of oneself becoming self actualised’. From a biological standpoint; the left-side of the brain is specialised for logical-analytical and verbal functions, whereas the right-side of the brain is holistic, experimental and visual, which has been confirmed by testing split brain patients (Garrett, 1976).

But can someone be right-brained or left-brained? Carlsson, Wendt & Risberg (2000) found that ‘highly creative’ subjects showed greater regional cerebral blood flow (rCBF) in the anterior prefrontal, frontotemporal and superior frontal regions then the ‘low creative’ subjects, particularly on those functions that are known to require the right hemisphere. However, Edwards (2001) argues that you need both specialities for most common functions and everyone is capable of using both sides equally (unless damage occurs of course), they just need to be trained.

Why is it so important?
Mumford & Simonton (1997) reviewed several organisations and concluded that successful business’ are the ones that encourage innovation and creativity in the workplace. Furthermore, a video I found depicts the most current ‘masterminds’ of today discussing coding, and they stress the importance of creativity and innovation amongst staff and the ability to build on old ideas to make them better. Basically, on a more simplistic level, there would be nothing beyond nature if creativity wasn’t in play! Well, now we know what creativity is and it’s importance, so why not utilise this? Interestingly, it seems that the general classroom concencus is to deter from creative characteristics. Westby & Dawson (1995) found that teachers least favourite students ratings were positively correlated with creativity, meaning that creative characteristics were disliked. From the information I have found in previous blogs, reinforcement is a key factor as to whether a behaviour is elicited again, so if these characteristics are not getting reinforced, they will likely stop.

OK, but what has this got to do with grades?
I think it is fairly obvious, and a fair few people have focused upon this concept in their blogs, that standardised testing does not allow room for creativity. Kohn (2001) revealed that students who adopted a ‘superficial learning style’ positively correlated with high scores on the Comprehensive Tests of Basic Skills (CTBS) and the Metropolitan Achievement Test (MAT), even though they did not fully understand the concepts. It seems to me, that with creativity, a student would not be able to use memory to pass a test. Within standardised testing, to quantify results, there has to be a margin of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ to compare to peer’s results. However, Steinberg (2006) argues that this is not necessarily a bad thing, they are just incredibly limited in what they assess.
I am inclined to agree with the latter half of his statement and the recent literature seems to suggest that creativity is a great thing to encourage; however, it is so hard to quantify for measurable success. I think the closest thing to a creative standardised test I found in my research, is Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives. He states there are six cognitive domains and therefore ‘levels’ of questions a teacher can ask to gage learning and understanding of any given subject. It is an interesting concept and definitely looks into more than just rote-memory as it gets the child thinking ‘out-the-box’ for the particular subject.

Creativity is a big part of modern day society with companies looking for innovation and critical thinkers more than ever. At the moment, the educational system does not view creativity with the importance it deserves and instead is insistant upon moulding student’s into standardised test answerers. If there is a way to change this, I whole heartedly believe it should be done!


Amabile, T. M. (1989). Growing up creative: Nurturing a lifetime of creativity. Crown House Publishing Limited.

Young, J. G. (1985). What is creativity?. The journal of creative behavior, 19(2), 77-87.

Maslow, A. H., Maslow, A. H., & Maslow, A. H. (1968). Toward a psychology of being.

Garrett, S. V. (1976). Putting our whole brain to use: A fresh look at the creative process. The Journal of Creative Behavior, 10(4), 239-249.
Carlsson, I., Wendt, P. E., & Risberg, J. (2000). On the neurobiology of creativity. Differences in frontal activity between high and low creative subjects. Neuropsychologia, 38(6), 873-885.
Edwards, B. (2001). The new drawing on the right side of the brain. HarperCollins UK.
Mumford, M. D., & Simonton, D. K. (1997). Creativity in the workplace: people, problems, and structures. The journal of creative behavior, 31(1), 1-6.

Westby, E. L., & Dawson, V. L. (1995). Creativity: Asset or burden in the classroom?. Creativity Research Journal, 8(1), 1-10.

Kohn, A. (2001). Fighting the tests: A practical guide to rescuing our schools. Phi Delta Kappan, 82(5), 348-357.
Steinberg, R. (2006). Creativity as a Habit. Education Week, 25(24), 47-64.
Bloom, B. Mesia, B. and Krathwohl, D. (1964). Taxonomy of Educational Objectives (two vols: The Affective Domain and The Cognitive Domain). New York. David McKay.

The Grading ‘why?’ socio-economic background & home environment. Week Four.

Home environment & Socio-economic background
I have chosen to use last week’s blog as my broad subject area and in the next few weeks will be focusing in upon different factors affecting grading within the schooling system.
It was Rebecca’s comment last week that has inspired me to explore the effects of the socio-economic background and home learning environment’s of a child on their grade results, both pre-school and within their school lives for this week’s blog focus.

Parenting Styles
It has been widely recognised for many years now that differing parenting styles have an effect on children’s development (Piaget, 1932).


Rubin et al (2003), amongst other findings, summarised that the relation between age 2 conflict-aggressive initiations and age 4 externalizing problems was strongest for those toddlers who incurred high levels of maternal negativity; which have been found to have a detrimental effect on grade results at primary school age (Prior et al, 1999). Even later on in educational progression, Dornbusch et al (1987) found that authoritarian and permissive parenting styles were negatively associated with grades, while authoritative parenting was positively associated with grades in American high school students. Interestingly as well as this, there has also been a positive correlation found between the positive authoritative parenting style and high socio-economic status background (Bradley & Corwyn, 2002).

Socio-Economic Background
When researching this area, I came across an extremely interesting audio interview regarding class inequalities in education. It is suggested in this interview, that (to put it bluntly), richer families are investing more into their children achieving a higher grade, by supplying them with educational pre-school, extra-tuition, resources such as educational software/toys, counsellors and/or summer school tuition. Therefore, at the end of the interview, he proposes that on the day of the exam (whether it be SAT’s, GCSE’s, 11+’s etc) you have two sets of children in the same school; the less well-off child who is judged upon what they have learnt in the classroom and through teacher-feedback on homework or the middle class child who is measured as a product of their parent’s investment.
Beside’s the money factor, there has also been found to be further factors affecting grading in different class backgrounds. To a lower class family, high grade achievement just simply holds less value than it does to a higher class family (Rosen, 1956), usually because of the work opportunities strived for in later life. Therefore, if a higher grade holds less value to parents, a child is likely to receive less reinforcement and ultimately not strive and not achieve highly at school (Gonzalez & Blanco, 1991). This notion supports the Vygotskian scaffolding theory, whereby child success is higher when the parent is supportive (Pratt et al, 1988).
From a combination of the two factors, it has been found that only 9% of low-income children will obtain college level (university) degrees (Bailey & Dynarski, 2011), because social class mobility has pretty much stopped. Futhermore, it has been found that a child’s life choices are heavily predicted on their development in the first five years of life (Field, 2010), meaning that combining all the research I have found; if parents are not supportive or do not hold a value for high grades, a child will most probably not achieve highly in later life. HOWEVER, I feel I must stress that not all lower social class citizens automatically achieve less, instead, the opportunity for success is lower.

It is fairly apparent that different parenting styles and therefore socio-economic status (in general) have an impact upon grade result success, especially through the opportunites they present to a developing child. This whole notion further makes me question the grading system, presuming on the whole that grades can be ‘bought’ in some way. Surely there must be a better measure.. stay tuned!


Piaget, J. (1932). The Moral Judgment of the Child. The International Library of Psychology, 1932.
Rubin, K. H., Burgess, K. B., Dwyer, K. M., & Hastings, P. D. (2003). Predicting preschoolers’ externalizing behaviors from toddler temperament, conflict, and maternal negativity. Developmental Psychology, 39(1), 164.
Prior, M., Smart, D., Sanson, A., & Oberklaid, F. (1999). Relationships between learning difficulties and psychological problems in preadolescent children from a longitudinal sample. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 38(4), 429-436.
Dornbusch, S. M., Ritter, P. L., Leiderman, P. H., Roberts, D. F., & Fraleigh, M. J. (1987). The relation of parenting style to adolescent school performance. Child development, 1244-1257.
Bradley, R. H., & Corwyn, R. F. (2002). Socioeconomic status and child development. Annual review of psychology, 53(1), 371-399.
Rosen, B. C. (1956). The achievement syndrome: A psychocultural dimension of social stratification. American Sociological Review, 21(2), 203-211.
Birney, R. C. (1964). The effects of grades on students. The Journal of Higher Education, 35(2), 96-98.
Martinez Gonzalez, R. A., & Corral Blanco, N. (1991). Parents and children: Academic values and school achievement. International Journal of Educational Research, 15(2), 163-169.
Bailey, M. J., & Dynarski, S. M. (2011). Gains and gaps: Changing inequality in US college entry and completion (No. w17633). National Bureau of Economic Research.
Field, F. (2010) The Foundation Years: preventing poor children becoming poor adults. HM Government, December 2010.
Pratt, M. W., Kerig, P., Cowan, P. A., & Cowan, C. P. (1988). Mothers and fathers teaching 3-year-olds: Authoritative parenting and adult scaffolding of young children’s learning. Developmental Psychology, 24(6), 832.

The Grading ‘why?’ Week Three.

So why grade?
Through last week’s blog and a recent episode of ‘Derek’, (where a girl on community service working in a retirement home started crying because she was told she was getting 10/10 and never had before) I decided that I wanted to focus on grading. The original aim was to ultimately assess individual achievement, a measurement tool for comparison between other student’s progression and the progression of personal learning. It has also become a form of currency within society, needed for employment and further educational practices. Furthermore, grades are often seen to be the predictor and assumption on the incentive of behaviour a student emits through study effort put in for exams and assignments.

With this in mind, initial thought may be that there is a negative correlation between grades and showing high levels of studying behaviours within students, but it has been found not to strictly be the case. Birney (1964) through the use of questionnaires/interviews, reported that the value of a grade is in fact contingent upon the value of the course in terms of the amount of effort put into studying. This finding fully supports operant behaviourism, which states that learning is emitting behaviour based on reinforcement which has taken place in the past, so that the antecedents of the new behaviour include the consequences of previous behaviour.

In the case of Birney’s students: A: interest in the subject – B: studied hard – C: high grades (which motivated them to study hard again) OR A: not interest in the subject  – B: didn’t study so hard  – C: lower grades (little motivation to study again because the subject holds minimal value).

What affects ‘grade motivation’?
How are students  motivated to study for the achievement of a high grade? Here are some possible determinants:

One factor found to contribute to grading and motivation is the self-concept of ability. Gottfried (1985) found that one through eighth graders’ academic intrinsic motivation inventory results positively correlated with school achievement, and negatively correlated with academic anxiety. Eccles et al., (1989) found similar results in sixth and seventh grade children; who rated self-concept of ability in parallel with the importance of the subject. In other words, if they thought they were particularly good at a subject, they thought it was of higher importance. Furthermore, Wigfield & Eccles (2000) proposed the ‘expectancy-value model’ stating that predicting children’s grades from their ability beliefs was often a predictor of results. Interestingly, Markus & Kitayama (1991) found that this does not correlate in all cultures; typically in American culture, an individual will strive to ‘…express their unique inner attributes’, and in Asian culture an individual will try to fit in with other’s when it comes to motivation and cognition.

Peer Influence
It has been found that adolecents are influenced more by their peers than parents (Coleman, 1961). Most school educational learning takes place in the classroom, where an individual is surrounded by their peers. Even when you reach university, it is common practice to discuss results. Schunk, Hanson & Cox (1987) found that when 10 year olds observed same-sex peers completing mathematical problems with coping skill levels as opposed to mastery skill levels, judged themselves as having similar competence and led to higher self-efficiency and skill.  This notion follows the Social Learning Theory (Bandura & McClelland, 1977), as behavior is learned from the environment through the process of observation. Furthermore, it has been found that provided group rewards and individual accountability are put into practice, cooperative group learning has a hugely positive effect on student achievement compared to control groups (Slavin, 1983). This notion of ‘positive peer pressure’ could definitely be a major influence in motivation to achieve high grades.

Surely this is good…?
So far, I have covered the reasons why we strive for grades, but what about the negative influences of handing out grades?
Well, here are three points that certainly speak volumes:

Grades tend to diminish students’ interest in whatever they’re learning
. The strive for high grades starts at a very early age, I certainly remember my teacher’s pushing for us to start thinking about university applications as young as 15 years old. But what has that done for our academic intrinsic motivation? It has been found because of the current need for having a university degree, the title is now more important for students than the information learnt on the course (Kuh, 2001).

Grades create a preference for the easiest possible task
. I’m sure many of you will think back to first year when everyone was heard muttering ‘First year doesn’t count towards your final degree’. Those who do just scrape 40%, this one applies to you! However, as we were indeed told in one of our first lectures and as McKenzie and Schweitzer (2001) have found, achieving high grades in the first year of university is a high predictor of overall university achievement, so maybe they should have been looking ahead?

Grades tend to reduce the quality of students’ thinking.
Grolnick and Ryan (1987), found that students had more trouble understanding the main point of a text passage if they were told it was going to be graded, than students that were told no grades would be involved. Furthermore, the ‘non-graded’ group could recall more facts regarding the passage a week later than the ‘graded’ group.

To conclude..
Grading obviously has a big impact on intrinsic motivation and there are a fair few factors affecting it. Operant conditioning may explain the personal reasons for wanting to achieve high grades as well as the social learning theory for peer influences. However, it is clear that the notion of handing out grades squashes interest and student thinking (creativity perhaps?).


Sorry the blog is a little lengthy this week – there was so much to write about and I was intrinsically motivated!


Birney, R. C. (1964). The effects of grades on students. The Journal of Higher Education, 35(2), 96-98.
Podsakoff, P. M., MacKenzie, S. B., & Organ, D. W. (2005). Organizational citizenship behavior: Its nature, antecedents, and consequences. Sage Publications, Incorporated.
Eccles, J. S., Wigfield, A., Flanagan, C. A., Miller, C., Reuman, D. A. and Yee, D. (1989), Self-Concepts, Domain Values, and Self-Esteem: Relations and Changes at Early Adolescence. Journal of Personality, 57: 283–310. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-6494.1989.tb00484.x
Gottfried, A. E. (1985). Academic intrinsic motivation in elementary and junior high school students. Journal of Educational Psychology, 77(6), 631.
Wigfield, A., & Eccles, J. S. (2000). Expectancy–value theory of achievement motivation. Contemporary educational psychology, 25(1), 68-81.
Markus, H. R., & Kitayama, S. (1991). Culture and the self: Implications for cognition, emotion, and motivation. Psychological Review; Psychological Review, 98(2), 224.

Bandura, A., & McClelland, D. C. (1977). Social learning theory.
Kandel, D. B., & Lesser, G. S. (1969). Parental and peer influences on educational plans of adolescents. American Sociological Review, 213-223.

Slavin, R. E. (1983). When does cooperative learning increase student achievement?. Psychological Bulletin, 94(3), 429.Kuh, G. D. (2001).
Kuh (2001) Assessing What Really Matters to Student Learning Inside The National Survey of Student Engagement. Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 33(3), 10-17.
Grolnick, W. S., & Ryan, R. M. (1987). Autonomy in children’s learning: An experimental and individual difference investigation. Journal of Personality and social Psychology, 52(5), 890.
McKenzie, K., & Schweitzer, R. (2001). Who succeeds at university? Factors predicting academic performance in first year Australian university students. Higher education research and development, 20(1), 21-33.

How come the Finnish are doing so well? Week Two.

In the UK, it is the law for children to start and finish school, “between the school term after their 5th birthday…” In the USA, it is also the law for children to start school by 5 years.  Here are some of the compulsory ages of starting school in European countries.
As you can see in some countries, such as Finland, education is in fact not compulsory until 7 years of age! You would assume that children from the UK and USA are at a major advantage academically, but that is not the case. Finland (however small it may be) in the 2006 PIRLS survey of 15year olds, actually came first and higher than 36th other big-name countries by a massive 5% in science, second in maths and third place in literacy! Further to this, more than half of the top 5 scoring countries for 4th graders in literacy, have their children starting formal education above the age of 6 (PIRLS 2011).
So what are Finland doing to have their children produce such fine results? A couple of the key features and principles for the Finnish education board really stood out to me;

Organisation of schoolwork and teaching is guided by a conception of learning where pupils’ own active involvement and interaction with teachers, fellow pupils and the learning environment are important. Pupils process and interpret the information that they absorb on the basis of their prior knowledge structures.”
This statement very closely links in with the social learning theory (SLT) (Bandura & McClelland, 1977) which states that a child learns from imitation and interaction with adults, along with the theory of behaviourism (Vygotsky, 1978) that suggests we produce behaviour down to the environment that surrounds us. Both these theories recognise the importance of self learning/creativity through guidance, and it seems that the Finnish are hitting the nail on the head when it comes to implementing this in their schools (Morgan & Forster, 1999).
Following this, there is also a huge emphasis on pre-school as a place for self sufficiency and creativity/self exploration, further supporting the behaviourism and SLT models. In a survey, teachers and parents from Ireland and Finland were asked to rate 8 components of expectations in pre-schoolers. Both rated ‘social skills with peers’ the most important for 4-5 year olds, however ‘self sufficiency’ came a close second for Finland, with more teachers and parents producing the same results than in Ireland (Ojala, 2000)

Grades are not given until high school, and even then, class rankings are not compiled… Finnish schools do not have classes for gifted students… Finland uses very little standardized testing… Diagnostic testing of students is used early and frequently… If a student is in need of extra help, intensive intervention is provided… Groups of teachers visit each others’ classes to observe their colleagues at work… Teachers also get one afternoon per week for professional development.”
These quotes very much reminded me of certain methods we were introduced to in the EBEM module last semester, Direct Instruction and Precision Teaching, which have been shown to show very good results in children of all abilities (Binder & Watkins, 1990)

I think to conclude, it is clear that the principles adopted by the Finnish are clearly making results on children’s academic performance. From the research I have found, their educational curriculum (at least early on) is based around the psychological principles put into play by behaviourists and SLT (ist’s!) alike.

Britain.. are you listening? 🙂 Finnish, ed with my blog… (bud-um, b-um, chhh)

Bandura, A., & McClelland, D. C. (1977). Social learning theory. 305-316Vygotsky, L. (1978) Interaction Between Learning and Development, Mind and Society, 79-91: Cambridge, MA.Morgan, S., & Forster, J. (1999) Creativity in the Classroom, Gifted Education International September 1999 vol. 14 no. 1 29-43

Binder, C. and Watkins, C. L. (1990), Precision Teaching and Direct Instruction: Measurably Superior Instructional Technology in Schools. Perf. Improvement Qrtly, 3: 74–96. doi: 10.1111/j.1937-8327.1990.tb00478.x

Ojala, M. (2000). Parent and teacher expectations for developing young children: A cross-cultural comparison between Ireland and Finland. European Early Childhood Education Research Journal, 8(2), 39-61.