The second misconception that caught my eye in the opinion piece entitled Proficiency-based Overreach by Curtis Hier (the same one I referenced in this previous post) from The Burlington Free Press is that students will no longer be motivated in a proficiency-based system because there won’t be traditional grading. The first assumption that is problematic in this argument is the assumption that kids had been previously motivated to learn by grades. I think a more accurate way to describe what has been going on for many years with traditional grading is that students were motivated to comply in order to get what they want. They were not motivated to learn. This is certainly a shift. In a proficiency based system, we don’t want kids to comply; we want them to be intrinsically motivated to learn. We want them to be invested and own their learning. Proficiency based learning requires students to learn and demonstrate that learning through evidence. In addition, Vermont’s Act 77 offers the opportunity to provide flexible pathways for this demonstration of learning. So the shift in thinking is that we are now looking to motivate students to learn and the way that happens in a competency based system is that learners have more voice and choice in what that learning looks like.
The second assumption that is problematic with this thinking is the implication that students don’t have any internal drive to learn. We know this is not true. Anyone who has had young children knows that when kids are young, they are avid learners. They question everything and have endless curiosity. It isn’t until formal schooling that this innate drive to learn seems to be replaced by compliance. I would argue, it is in fact our current system of education that drains a person’s innate drive to learn (or an enormous coincidence) . Kids are not born needing to be motivated by external factors like grades and money. Again, those external rewards are used to promote compliance not learning. Kids are not innately averse to learning.
In order for people to succeed in a global economy, they need to be intrinsically motivated to take initiative. They need to be able to constantly take the initiative to learn new skills and technologies to keep up with the rate of change that their jobs will require. We don’t need to push out people who are compliant; we need to create avid learners. Our current education system is slow to understand and model this important “why” of what we are doing.