Foretelling grades and encouraging reflection to increase motivation

by Jason Pratt
(Yokohama, Japan)

Figure 1: Example of chart given to students

Figure 1: Example of chart given to students

Introduction


Lack of motivation is a commonly cited concern regarding Japanese university students studying a foreign language. Having taught a number of English classes to students categorized as low intermediate, with some classes particularly populated by a number of unmotivated students, I sought to find a way to bring an overall increase in two such low intermediate classes at the mid-way point of the fall semester of 2015. It was my hope that they as wholes would dedicate themselves to attending class more regularly and to studying to greater degrees in and out of class. In order to do this, I provided students with researched projections of the types of grades they may expect at the semester’s end if they continued to employ the same habits that they had up until the mid-term test. The envisioned idea was that by seeing a grade lower than they wanted, many students might try harder so as to top the listed grade. My findings, detailed below, suggest that my actions had a positive result for a large percentage of students, though not all. It is hoped that through continuing the approach and making some adjustments, more students will benefit.


Approach

Following a mid-term speaking test in the fall semester of 2015, a two-tiered approach was enacted in hopes of actively building awareness in students. Specifically, I wanted them to consider their performance up to that point, the level of grades they may expect as a result, and how they could achieve better.

Firstly, students were provided with a chart that listed two of the factors that determine their grades: the mid-term speaking test scores and attendance. As visible below in Figure 1, the amount of absences runs across the top axis and a range of scores runs across the left axis. This chart did not track the fall semester students, but instead tracked students from the preceding spring semester that had been in the same level class, using the same text, and were taught using the same syllabus. The ranges of the test scores, for example, therefore did not consider all possible scores on the zero to 50 scale, but instead the range of scores that had been attained by students within the spring semester. The absences were also the range of absences that spring semester students had up until the mid-term. Each spring semester student’s final grade was then written in the respective box that indicated his mid-term speaking test score and absences up until that point. For the sake of anonymity, no names were listed.

It should be noted that the chart above is not the true one provided to students. To respect my former university’s right to manage this type of data, I have made false ranges and a few sample scores to serve as an example.

At the top of the chart, the one piece of information from the then-current semester, fall 2015, that was listed was the best score achieved within the class. I decided not to list the bottom score. I believed that if students found who scored the highest it could be motivational for both that student and also potentially become a target score for the others, whereas I could see more possible negative affects, particularly for the lowest scorer, if his name was found.

Students were instructed to use the chart to find the box corresponding to their own numbers of absences and mid-term speaking test scores in order to see what type of grade they might expect if they continued to perform and participate as they had until that point. As the data for the chart was based on real results from spring semester students, many boxes had no grades and a few had multiple grades. Students were told that if their box had no grade, they should look at the closest box containing a grade, but consider that there could be some difference.

The second tier of this approach was a homework assignment in which students were required to reflect on their performance in the speaking test. Each student was asked to write what he felt he did well on the mid-term speaking test and what he would do in order to achieve a better score on the final speaking test. In order to avoid hindering reflection, this is the one assignment in the semester that students were allowed to do in their native language.


Goals and worries

It was my hope that by seeing grades on par with those that they might expect to earn, students would aspire to achieve better. Furthermore, through the homework assignment, students would in theory develop a personalized, realistic strategy to pursue their new goal. As a result, my hope was that overall in the second half of the semester absenteeism would be reduced and preparation for the speaking test, at the very least, would improve, both in comparison to their own indicators in the first half of the semester and compared to my previous students’ second semester results.

At the same time, I was worried that only a certain segment of students might be particularly motivated, while others would not, and a segment of students may even decrease efforts. Students who were concerned with their GPA and found on the chart a grade less than what they hoped, as well as students in general who might be on pace to receive no credit, seemed to represent the most likely to become motivated through this approach. In cases where students were seemingly on pace to get top scores or were only concerned with receiving credit and considered their current pace acceptable, I believed there was a chance that they may not feel a need to do more, or may even feel that they could do less and still receive an acceptable grade.


Limitations

Before sharing the results of how students performed in the second half of the semester, I believe it is important here to clarify what once again what information students were provided with. It is also prudent to describe what students were not provided with and why. This information will be influential in interpreting the findings.

First of all, to restate the above, students were shown grades received by people who had the same or similar scores on their mid-term speaking tests and the same amount or near the same amount of absences as them at that point. In this class, these are not the only two factors for determining the grades that students receive. The two determinants that were left off are listed below and the reasons are provided. In neither case was the potential for the chart to become increasingly complicated the reason for omission.

Homework performance was not included on the chart. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, I have tended to assign more homework in each semester than in the previous one. Therefore, I considered a raw score difficult to put on the chart. However, in retrospect, a percentage could have been calculated that would have no bearing on how much homework was assigned in a given semester. Secondly, while I have recorded scores for homework, I have done less recording of the dates those assignments were given, making it difficult to chart pre-mid-term versus post-mid-term results for my spring 2015 students. As both of these are easily remedied issues, in future charts, homework can be added.

A final listening test is factored into student grades; however, the chart included no listening score. The reason for this omission is that I had not been giving mid-term listening tests. The merit of creating one, even if not counted towards a final grade, is obvious: it would better help prepare students for the final listening test. This research thus helped me to realize the importance of creating such a mid-term test and one would be incorporated in the future.

These omissions mean that the chart could not perfectly predict student grades. Nonetheless, students were told of this when given the charts and instructed to consider the grades listed as one potential future. Despite the likelihood, therefore, for this research to only measure speaking test score and absenteeism changes, in the results section below and the subsequent data analysis section, I try to use the data to somewhat overcome this.


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