Motivation Without Grades

April 30, 2019

How do you motivate students at a school without grades?

How do you motivate students to work at home without assigning homework?

We’re trying out a points based competition called “Beast of the Week” in Level 3. In its first iteration, Beast of the Week was simply motivational strategy devised to increase student time in apps. The title would go to the student who spent the most time working in the apps over a week. Because the students are putting in the same amount of work during core skills, the person who put in the most work at home would win.

Win what, though? Cash? Privilege? Think smaller. The Beast of the Week wins two things:

  1. A plastic toy version of the Infinity Gauntlet from the latest Avengers movie, which they can flaunt for the duration of their time as Beast of the Week
  2. A prize tailored to the particular student who wins, like a cap from their favorite baseball team.
    “Okay,” we thought before we rolled out the challenge to the students, “let’s see how this works.”

Students (not all, but most in our group of twelve) rushed into the apps at home. iXL was the clear preference when it came to working at home. When I asked one of our students why, she said, “I just like iXL! It isn’t too hard, it isn’t super easy, and I feel like I’m learning.”

After the first week, guides were shocked at the effort students were putting in for a fairly arbitrary title. Students simply loved the competition.

We began to ask whether “total time” in an app is a useful assessment of a “beast.” After all, we want to encourage life skills, critical thinking, and the pursuit of creative projects at Alpha. So we added a layer of complexity to Beast of the Week and came up with a points system. The points broke down like this:

Time in Apps:

  • 1st place = 1000 points
  • 2nd = 700 points
  • 3rd = 500 points


  • 50 points per Newsela article and 300-word response done at home (after school and over the weekend)

Creative/Passion Project:

  • 500 points for completion in a creative project
  • 250 points for significant work in a creative project

Wild Card:

  • 500 points for completion of a Wild Card task

The Wild Card is an open-ended and flexible category that changes on a weekly basis. Guides can change the Wild Card category to do one of several things, engage a particular student or group of students, add a challenge that is timely (cooking over the week of Thanksgiving), etc.

There’s no one answer for motivation, especially in middle school. In fact, a motivational strategy could be a matter of “right time, right place.”