“Too many organizations---not just companies, but governments and nonprofits as well---still operate from assumptions about human potential and individual performance that are outdated, unexamined, and rooted more in folklore than in science.” Daniel Pink, Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates UsIt’s not just businesses that are still caught in outdated assumptions about performance and motivation. Schools are caught in that same time warp too. Much of how our classrooms and schools are structured and operate are designed to take advantage of extrinsic motivation, and we are finding that in the 21st century, this structure and way of operating no longer works.
But the question is, how can we transform our schools so that they no longer operate under these outdated assumptions about student potential, student performance, and student motivation? If one were to make a list of how our schools still operate and what these faulty and obsolete assumptions about education and schooling are, that list would look somewhat like this.
- Students are motivated by grades.
- Students are incapable of directing their own learning.
- Classrooms (and schools) must operate under strict control with specific rules and consequences governing student behavior.
- Teachers are the primary dispensers of learning in the classroom.
- Education is something “done to students” rather than something in which they engage.
In ROLE Reversal, Barnes describes what he terms a Results Only Learning Environment or ROLE. As the name implies, in a ROLE the focus is entirely on results, or student work. Also, in this environment, the principles of fostering intrinsic motivation described by Pink are implemented fully. According to Barnes, a ROLE basically upends many of the traditional assumptions about education and learning. Here’s some of ways these traditional assumptions are upended.
In a ROLE, or Results Only Learning Environment:
- Grades and grading systems are replaced with a “narrative feedback system” that focuses specifically on student work and improving that work. In Barnes’ result-only classroom, teachers do not use numerical grades to provide feedback because numerical feedback systems fail to provide feedback students need to improve their performance. Instead, students are given extensive, comprehensive, and ongoing narrative feedback on their work. This feedback is specific and can be used by the student for work improvement. In ROLE Reversal, Barnes shows teachers how to provide this kind of feedback.
- Instead of teacher-directed learning activities, students are given broad, long-term projects to complete, and they make the daily decisions on how to complete those projects. The intrinsic motivation model described by Pink demands that autonomy be employed to engage people in the tasks at hand. Under Barnes’ results-only classroom model, students engage in six-week long projects that provide a great deal of choice, or autonomy, on how and what is learned and when. Autonomy is a built-in component of his results-only classroom practice.
- Classroom rules and consequences are jettisoned and the use of opportunities to engage in meaningful work, collaborating with peers, and trust/respect are used instead to manage classroom behavior. Too often, classrooms become more about focusing on the enforcement of rules rather than the learning students are being asked to do. In Barnes’ results-only classroom, behavior is managed through well-designed, engaging, and collaborative learning projects that leave students little time to engage in problem behaviors. Also, the results-only classroom described by Barnes fosters a high-level of respect and trust that makes having rules and consequences less necessary.
- Teachers are no longer the “dispensers of information/learning.” According to Barnes, in a ROLE, teachers become coaches and facilitators of student learning. In the results-only classroom, teachers step away from the front of the classroom and spend more time facilitating student learning and coaching students on their work. Teacher-centered activities like worksheets, quizzes, and homework are jettisoned. Instead, students engage in long-term, meaningful activities that challenge them.
- Education and learning moves from being something done to students to something in which students actively engage in on a daily basis. The 20th century traditional model of education is very much still with us. The heart of that educational philosophy and model sees education as a process by which we subject students to, in order to add value determined by test scores. Under Barnes’ result-only model, education and learning is something students actively engage in every day. They are active participants in their learning.
Mark Barnes, Role Reversal