Learning is the residue of thinking

On this page

Video – The workings of the brain

  1. Basing a portion of report card grades on an average of test scores.
  2. Basing part of the report card grades on the number of successful contact moments
    2.1 Effort
    2.2 Intrinsic motivation
    2.3 When to give or not give a check mark
    2.4 Student hears results immediately
    2.5 Maximum number of check marks per report period
    2.6 Prior knowledge – Convergent
    2.7 Presentations – Divergent
    2.8 Results
  3. World-centered education
  4. Practical experience
  5. Combining both approaches to teaching
  6. Summary

In education, it is common practice to administer tests centrally and to base report grades on an average of several tests per student. It is also possible to base grades on the number of individual contact moments between teacher and student per reporting period. If teachers base report grades on both ways of grading, they thereby motivate their students.

Johan ‘t Hart – version november 2023

In this blog, I advocate alternating between two different ways of calculating report grades.

  1. Certain periods the teacher, or the school, reserves for the usual way of testing, where report grades are based on the average of a number of centrally administered tests.
  2. Other periods the teacher, or the school, reserves for an alternative way of testing, where a student’s report grade increases after each successful contact moment with the teacher and where both teacher and student are satisfied with the performance.

The final report is then based on both forms of grading. I spend most of this blog on the second method of assessment where the teacher asks the student to decide on a topic and work independently. The title of this blog is “Learning is the residue of thinking. On the title I will now elaborate.

Learning is the residue of thinking’ says influential contemporary American researcher Daniel Willingham.” van der Helden (2016), Jurjen and Harold Bekkering

Bloom’s taxonomy describes the same phenomenon as, “Remembering is the residue of thinking. In both cases, thinking is at the root.

Learning can be seen as a creative process with convergent and divergent elements. Therefore, I recommend that teachers incorporate both elements into a learning environment with the goal of increasing student motivation, effort and autonomy.

In convergent parts of the lesson, the teacher largely determines how students engage with assignments (Teacher-centred education).

In divergent parts of the lesson, the student determines how to work. Grades are determined by the teacher based on the number of successful contact moments (Student-centred education).

Combining the two approaches to teaching, each with its own way of assessing, creates a rich learning environment with convergent as well as divergent elements that matches the way the brain works.

1. Basing part of the report grade on an average of test scores

In this (often used) method of grading, you as a teacher deal with a subject. You agree on a test with your students and you take that test together. Then you take a new subject and so on. What are the advantages and disadvantages of this method of assessment?


  1. This form of assessment is suitable when covering compulsory class material, for example exam material.
  2. Students get a clear assignment to learn the material covered and prepare for the test.


  1. In teacher-led teaching, there is less room for students’ own initiative.
  2. For more details see ‘Pitfall of teacher-centred education’.

2. Basing part of the grading on the number of successful contact moments

In this alternative method of grading, a teacher gives “checkmarks” during contact moments. At these contact moment, you guide and assess an individual student along a route chosen by the student. To make that possible, you make enough time available in which your students can work independently. A student first chooses a subject and determines the goal. You indicate that you expect your students to work on their chosen topic and you askyour students to show you a number of times per reporting period what they have worked on. If a student has completed the maximum number of contact moments, that student receives the highest report grade.

In the contact moments, there are two aspects on which you can grade a student:

Mastering ready knowledge. The student first tests this knowledge himself with an app and then shows this performance to you during a contact moment. Your students are motivated to acquire the relevant knowledge because this knowledge is necessary and directly applicable to them in the chosen topic.
Giving presentations. If a student gives the presentation only for you, you grade the presentation during independent work. If the student wants to give the presentation in front of the whole class, you assess when you are teaching the whole class.


  1. Students choose topics that suit them.
  2. Students set their own pace of work.
  3. Students work at their own level.
  4. Students first test their ready knowledge themselves with an app.
  5. Students are free to work together or not.
  6. Students are more intrinsically motivated when they get to choose for themselves.
    The more successful contact moments the higher the grade.
  7. At the beginning of the report period, students are responsible for getting to work on their own. Encouragement is usually not necessary.
  8. Many students soon have a good report grade. Therefore, you have plenty of time at the end of a report period to guide lagging students.
  9. In this format, students will learn more than you can test.
  10. Students are in control, think more and remember more (greater residual: learning/remembering is the residual of thinking).
  11. In this form of testing, students are responsible for their grade. With more effort, a student gets more check marks and thus a higher report grade.
  12. Students make their own choices. Therefore, the contact moments for students feel like personal guidance and not teacher control.
  13. Demotivation by comparing performance does not play a role in this approach.


  1. If you have students working independently most of the time available, there is less opportunity for teachting the entire class.
  2. For more details, see “Pitfall of student-directed teaching.

It would be nice if we could see how much effort a student puts in, how much a student is looking forward to it, and/or whether or not he or she is meeting the challenge from within. Indeed, the feedback given to the student should give the feeling that the effort is valued. This is very important for motivation to take on new challenges. This allows the student to expand his or her competencies based on outcomes.van der Helden (2016), Jurjen and Harold Bekkering

The desire in this quote to see a student’s effort is realized with both approaches to teaching with on the one hand, you grading your students on tests and on the other hand, you checking the number of checkmarks of a student. When assessing with check marks, students notice that you are monitoring their initiatives, efforts and their ready knowledge. This is an incentive for them to take on new challenges. They welcome your guidance and appreciate checkmarks that lead to higher grades.

2.2 intrinsic motivation

How do you increase your students’ motivation? How do you awaken in students a hunger for knowledge?
In assessment with check marks, students are allowed to take the initiative. They come to you during independent work to show their new knowledge or to ask your advice. They then commit themselves to getting the highest grade possible and come to you as often as necessary to get the highest grade.

Isn’t it a nice metaphor that our intrinsic motivation to learn is also called “hunger” for knowledge? Hunger, seeking food, not being able to relinquish acquired food and partial reinforcement while seeking food, all these conditions constitute a strong learning environment. It seems as if we learn with the same eagerness with which we obtain food. As if our need to acquire new information is embedded in the system we obtained evolutionarily to provide us with food. You could put it this way: the better and more comprehensive our model of the world is, the better we can find food, the more likely we are to survive in general.” van der Helden (2016), Jurjen and Harold Bekkering

2.3 When do you give a checkmark or not?

If during a contact moment it appears that a student has worked well, you give the student a checkmark.
If the work is not in order you do not give a checkmark. Not giving a checkmark is not a punishment; it is merely an incentive for the student to get serious about work. Later, a student may come to you again and then receive a checkmark.

Rewarding with checkmarks has an addictive effect for learners. One might then question whether learners are intrinsically motivated by checkmarks. Fortunately, there are no other side effects.

2.4 Student hears results immediately

You give a checkmark immediately after a student comes to you for an assessment. By doing so, you avoid the following:

For example, in education, waiting a long time for a test result has adverse learning effects for two reasons. First, during the feedback, students hardly remember the content of the test: the association network is already extinguished. Second, learners find it very difficult to make a connection between the outcome and learning behavior. As a result, learners are worse at making a connection between the behavior shown (learning and material) and the corresponding reward. And that increases the likelihood that the learner will ‘think magic’ and make all sorts of random associations to understand the outcome, such as which leg he got out of bed with, which pen he used, or which sweater he wore.

[An association network is a network of brain cells that work together to process and store information. In neuropathy, the association network can become disrupted, preventing the brain from properly processing and storing information].

2.5 Maximum number of checkmarks per report period

Depending on the number of hours you teach a group per week, you determine the maximum number of checkmarks per student. Once a student has received the maximum number of checkmarks, the student receives the highest report grade. Why is there a maximum number of checkmarks per report period? If you did not set a maximum, then fast learners could demand all your attention. Now these students are already at their maximum halfway through the period. You then offer these students a number of options:

  1. Helping others
  2. Go do something for themselves with your subject.
  3. Doing something for themselves in another subject.

By setting a maximum number of checkmarks to be obtained, you have plenty of time in the latter part of the term for students who are behind.

2.6 Ready knowledge – Convergent

Just as with teacher-centred education, testing of ready knowledge plays a role in providing checkmarks: ‘Teaching to the test’. In order to make this tick testing go smoothly, for each subject that students can choose, create an app that allows them to practice and memorize subject terms. Each student determines the time of practice with the ready knowledge. The student also determines the time of having you review this ready knowledge. If a student passes the prescribed level at the app again in your presence, you give a checkmark. This prevents a student from studying the subject superficially and without understanding, without a framework of concepts. Make testing with the app a mandatory part because:

Kant sums this up nicely with: “Thoughts without content are empty and perceptions without concepts are blind.van der Helden (2016), Jurjen and Harold Bekkering.

You can also look for other apps that test a student’s other skills that also belong to the self-selected topic. Completing such a task with a checkmark is satisfying for both a student and the teacher because half-work is impossible. The student masters the knowledge indicated by the app and demonstrates this to you. Earlier I wrote the blog about this: Quality Time!

2.7 Presentations – Divergent

You prepare a number of topics. Students can find the material you prepare online. Students then choose a topic that suits them (divergent).

You ask each student to formulate what they will do with that topic, what they want to achieve with the topic, what they will practice, and you ask students to test the conceptual framework with an app. With all of this, you have your students thinking, setting goals and planning: Learning/memorize is the residue of thinking.

How do you grade a presentation of a self-selected topic?

Prior to a presentation, you ask the student to assess the quality of the presentation.
During the presentation you ask questions and give advice if necessary. It is then clear to you how the student has handled the topic and whether the student has reflected.
After the presentation, you compare the student’s self-assessment with your own. You use both grades to determine the final grade.

You give a checkmark if both you and the student are satisfied. You then add both grades to your own records. These grades give an indication of a student’s judgment and level of achievement. At report meetings, you can then give meaningful advice about, for example, a student’s transition or school choice.

2.8 Results

Are students working only for a grade? What I saw is that students becamehappy with their own efforts as well as happy with their high report grade. During the investigation of my teaching practice, the researcher Kees van der Meer asked students why they worked so hard. The students answered in chorus: for a grade!

I hope that teachers see the alternative way of grading described here as an addition to their existing way of working. With this addition, they give students the opportunity to work on their subject autonomously and with pleasure.

3 World-centered education

In an earlier quote under the point ‘intrinsic motivation’, I read ‘our model of the world’. By allowing students to engage with their own interests in your subject area, they discover new aspects of your subject and expand their (already existing) knowledge (of the world).

The important question of how students interact with the world comes up in ‘World-centered education’ by Biesta

World-centered education is not only about acquiring knowledge but also about how we treat the earth. It is not only about opening doors to the world but also to the ‘self’. It is about being ‘in’ and ‘with’ the world. The real work for a teacher is not to suppress expression and creativity AND to bring students into dialogue with the world, to stay in touch with who or what is different, to show that the world is real and not a construction, to be in the world in a mature way.Biesta (2022), Gert J.J.

Philippe Meirieu formulates this as follows: to be in the world without being the center of the world.

A positive learning environment allows Students to have their own voice, to be creative, to make their own meaning, to express their own unique identity. It makes students autonomous.

Which teacher is able to create this environment? Sorensen has researched the practices of experienced teachers “expert teachers. His conclusion is that teachers at the beginning of their careers design loose lessons (design). Once experienced, they are able to give their students more and more autonomy. Sorensen (2023), Nick

4 Practical experience

In the first years of teaching, I could not imagine how thirty students could work autonomously in my classroom. I expected chaos if I tried. With me, it took 34 years before I dared to give students autonomy.

For the last three years of my career, I assessed exclusively with checkmarks. I walked through my classroom contentedly and saw that students from different classes were doing well, with exceptions. Occasionally the students consulted me, regularly they showed results with the app or they gave a presentation. Above all, I saw many students who enjoyed working together. At the end of each periode, I asked the students if they had achieved the goal they had set at the beginning. By answering that question, they were increasingly able to set a realistic goal in the next period.

See Practice example student-centred music lessons

5 Combining both ways of working?

  1. Alternate both ways of giving report grades per reporting period. e.g. first report central tests, second report check marks etc. To take this step it is necessary to have permission within the section/school to calculate report grades in a different way for certain reporting periods.
  2. Within a report period, organize a project week where students can collect checkmarks from different teachers.
  3. Determine the weighting of both ways of grading for the final report.
  4. Organize both approaches to teaching so that during the period when students are working independently, they can go deeper into the material covered in an earlier period in class.

5.1 How do you accelerate this process?

Conceiving of this environment took me 34 years. With the following internship design now, I believe this development of 34 years could be reduced to two years:

An expert teacher designs a learning environment as described above. All the materials for this environment are on the Internet. Beginning teachers do an internship with this expert teacher. After the internship, they work at the school where they did their internship for one year. Then these beginning teachers look for another school and provide a similar learning environment to their first school. If there are several similar internships, this type of internship can become part of a teacher training program. Teachers working in different schools with similar learning environments share their expertise to improve the different learning environments.

Once this is rolled out on some scale, research is possible on learning outcomes and motivation of students who used such a learning environment. Only then will it be clear how effective this learning environment with a combination of the two approaches to teaching mentioned above. In this research, besides examining the effect of the combination of two ways of assessing, it is also important to check whether a framework has been agreed upon and whether the teacher is friendly and clear. In this regard, read this quote from haim ginott

6 Summary

Friendly and Fair Teaching advises teachers to offer their students a positive learning environment with convergent and divergent elements.