I’m spending this week doing a Project-Based Learning workshop for some of the teachers in our district. Yesterday afternoon began our discussion on rubric design. I started with a question “why do we grade?” I received the typical “to assign a value to the work”, etc as responses. The idea of providing feedback, and as a tool for growth wasn’t mentioned, which was perfect for the purposes of our discussions. So, we moved on to the idea of why we enact a penalty for late submissions. The response was, again, as you would expect - we enact the penalties because it’s the only leverage we have to hold students accountable to turn in their work.
When I first learned about rubric design, one of the things that I was told was to have a rubric (or a line in a rubric) specifically addressing “Professionalism” - does the student do what you expect them to do? By meeting behavioral expectations, students earned points added to their grades. The understanding of behavioral psychology here (rewarding people for good behavior) isn’t new, and brings us to our story for today:
Verizon Wireless is the largest cellular telephone provider in the United States. In an attempt to convince people to switch to having their bills paid automatically each month by bank draft, Verizon attempted to institute a $2 “convenience fee” for any one-time payment made. In other words, if you didn’t behave in the way Verizon wanted, there would be a penalty of $2. There was immediate and extreme backlash, and Verizon ultimately axed the plan.
U.S. Cellular is a small, regional carrier that most of you have probably never heard of. They exist exclusively in the midwest (Chicago) and rural Northeastern North Carolina. US Cellular provides customers who use automatic payments a 3% discount. If you have automatic payments by checking account, you get a 5% discount. By engaging in the desired behavior, US Cellular rewards you.
But really, what does this mean? On a $100 phone bill, Verizon would charge you an additional $2, and US Cellular would discount your bill $3. However, that’s a $3 penalty for not enrolling in the automatic payments. US Cellular and Verizon are essentially engaging in the same action - providing disincentive for engaging in the undesired behavior. In fact, US Cellular’s disincentive is greater than Verizon’s. However, because they identify it as a reward and not a penalty, people look past it and are actually more likely to behave “correctly”. Certainly there is less pushback and outcry.
So, this may have something to do with grading. A 10-point penalty for late work, or a 20 points earned simply for turning work in on time. Which is more likely to work? You can see my opinion.