Should we assess motivation?

This week, I attended the Singapore Math Strategies Conference, organized by Staff Development Education (SDE) at Las Vegas. This was the second Singapore Math Conference I have attended in two weeks, and as always, I am energized by the math colleagues I met at these events.

One of the math session was on “assessment”. After the session, I reflected on the importance of “assessment” and how, as educators, we usually focus on the measurable, e.g test scores. While the cognitive domain is important, we should not neglect the affective domains as well, e.g attitude, motivation and values.

We usually end our lessons with extended/challenging questions, inviting anyone who is interested to try out. While I have observed many instances where higher achieving students are also highly motivated to solve these optional questions, I have also sat in many classrooms where the average students were the ones who attempt these questions enthusiastically, while the students with the higher test scores sit back and shy away from them. Why is that so?

Perhaps the label “higher achieving students” are actually doing these students a disservice – they are used to being perceived as the “smarter” ones, and hence do not want to attempt the challenging questions in case they fail. The fear of failure can have long lasting effects, and it is important for us educators to intervene when appropriate. As educator Elliot Eisner once put it, “Not everything important is measurable and not everything measurable is important.”

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