Ask pupils to ‘fight to keep their A grade’


Giving every student an automatic A grade which they then must fight to keep is one suggestion from a new report into motivation in the classroom.

Giving every student an automatic A grade which they then must fight to keep is one suggestion from a new report into motivation in the classroom.

The study, from the Social Brain Centre at the RSA, offers a range of low-cost and simple ideas that focus on boosting young people’s expectations, resilience and enjoyment.

The advice is broken into three areas – mind-sets and attitudes, cognitive biases, and surroundings and environmental influences.

The report is entitled Pupils To ‘Defend Their A’: How behavioural insights can help teachers motivate their class, and its headline idea is that every student in a class starts the year with an A grade which they must continuously improve their performance in order to keep.

The idea is based on the concept of “loss aversion” – our natural tendency to be more motivated to avoid losing something than we are to acquire a similar gain.

Elsewhere, the report promotes the work of Professor Carol Dweck who has discussed the importance of growth over fixed mind-sets and of praising effort rather than ability. It says teachers should model this themselves and should “position wrong answers as an opportunity to learn more, to think about the process, and as natural to the learning journey”.

It asks teachers to challenge their own mind-sets as well, and the impressions they form about pupils in the first days and weeks of term. It suggests teachers engage in “perspective-taking” or role-play exercises to discuss the relevance of any biases.

The study also reports “significant” evidence when it comes to surroundings, which it says can affect pupils’ effort levels, aggression and test scores. 

It says that views of nature and “green space” can reduce mental fatigue and aggression. It also finds that poorly maintained school buildings and classrooms can increase students’ impulsivity and short-term thinking.

Meanwhile, it offers ideas to use “cues of intelligence” in the classroom environments to “prime” students. Priming is a psychological phenomenon based on using subtle cues in our environment to influence our behaviour. Examples include displaying words associated with intelligence.

Senior researcher at the Social Brain Centre, Nathalie Spencer, said: “We hope that our recommendations start a discussion among teachers about how they might apply behavioural insights  in the classroom. 

“From improving effort and enjoyment levels of underperforming pupils, to understanding educators’ assessment of pupils and the very nature of education reform itself, the application of behavioural insight to education practice may help the system to reduce the gap in attainment between rich and poor.”

Associate director of education at the RSA, Louise Bamfield, added: “We’re not saying that these measures represent a silver bullet or that they will magically fix all the problems teachers face on a day-to-day basis. They do provide, however, more than a ‘nice to have’ optional bag of tricks. 

“The ideas in this report include simple, low-cost interventions that when added together could have a significant impact on the relationship between teachers and learners.”

You can download the report at

CAPTION: Motivational thinking: Poor classroom environments can increase students’ impulsivity and short-term thinking



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