Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Instructional Design Article Critique #4

Cheating Themselves Out of an Education: Assignments that Promote Higher-Order Thinking and Honesty in the Middle Grades
Instructional Design Article Critique #4
Chris Boyd
Morehead State University

The title alone grabs my interest as a middle school educator. Zito and McQuillan report their findings on attitudes of learning and cheating from a study at Goodwin School, a private, nondenominational, coeducational day school, in northeastern Massachusetts.
As students transition from elementary to middle to high school, teachers increasingly assign great weight to performance and grades as opposed to understanding and the process of learning (Anderman & Midgley, 2004).  Students correlate grades as the highest consideration towards admission to colleges and professional opportunities.  Students associate their future prosperity to test scores, grades, and class rankings. 
The study revealed that the environmental factors of secondary education lead to a change in student behavior.  Structure, and student perceptions of their learning,  grows increasingly performance-based.  Students are motivated largely by isolated performances and the grades they receive for their work, regardless of how they attain those grades.  (p.7) 
Goal orientation theory attributes student motivation for learning to the structure of the classroom environment as being either performance or mastery-oriented (Stephens & Gehlbach, 2007).  The differences between these two concepts of academic success influence how student think about their assignments and the purpose of learning.    A classroom that focuses on performance can promote a culture where achieving a particular grade becomes more important to students than the learning.   In mastery classroom, students appreciate the inherent value in the work they undertake and strive to realize course objectives because they find them personally meaningful (Wiggins & McTighe, 2008).
At their worst, performance-oriented classrooms prioritize grades over genuine understanding, present achievement as a comparative phenomenon, downplay the link between effort and achievement, and ultimately create a context in which cheating becomes a particularly viable and morally defensible strategy. (p. 15)
Students cheat less on assignments that they consider valuable to their learning.  If the primary purpose of receiving a good grade is to please parents, or protect their eligibility for a sport – students have more potential and pressure to cheat.  Teachers must create assignments that promote outcomes rather than just performance.   When teachers implement this strategy there will be more value to the work and students can be expected to complete assignments in an honest and ethical way.
Teachers must be careful in weighing assignments – how much something will count.  Students must view learning as preparing them for the future, and that the work that they are doing has value.  Teachers must recognize that when students understand how learning can be used in the real world – they are not as likely to cheat.  As educators it is our job to help students understand why each class is going to be of value to them down the road.  We need to help students make meaning from the content they engage in their courses (Wiggins & McTighe, 2008).
The nature of authentic, relevant, real-world assignments will discourage cheating, because the assignment’s connection to the real world makes it difficult to misrepresent their work (Wiggins & McTighe, 2008).
Strategies to connect are collaborative group projects, student choice and autonomy in their work, teaching experiences for students, use of technology as a tool, open-ended questions, and real-world application.
Wiggins and McTighe are two of my favorite designers.  They are credited with the creation of UbD.  Their philosophy runs true though-out the entire article.  We do not want our students to make believe that they know what they do not know.  We need to create projects and opportunities that engage students in rich learning and give their experiences real world relevance, personal meaning and demand a proof of understanding. (p. 13)
As middle school educators we have the perfect opportunity to help students balance the pressure of performing for grades.  This is so difficult in an educational system that is driven by assessment, standardized scoring, and oriented towards direct results.  Only a collective effort towards authentic learning will help promote the understanding of genuine learning.  UbD is one of those designs, but it would demand a buy-in attitude by an entire staff, administration and parents. We need professional learning communities to offer development for exploring how student work can be designed to integrate authentic and real-world tasks.  Experiences with personal meaning will provide students with the desire to understand, and recognize that cheating will not provide the real answers needed to be successful in the real world and, in fact, may rob the student of an opportunity to learn how to be successful in the real world.

Zito, N. & McQuillan, P. (2010). Cheating Themselves Out of an Education: Assignments that Promote Higher-Order Thinking and Honesty in the Middle Grades. Middle School Journal. Vol. 42. Number 2. November 2010. pages 6-13.