Saturday, March 31, 2012

Take the Grade out of Learning

Hi Group,

Wow. Mr. Kohn isn’t beating around the bush! He stands behind his conviction by claiming, “You can tell a lot about a teacher’s values and personality just by asking how he or she feels about giving grades….Frankly, we ought to be worried for these teachers’ students.” Kohn targets both parents and teachers with this article. He doesn’t mince words. It’s clear his going to dispel a huge myth—the myth most of us grew up with—the myth of the importance of grades, and grades being the ultimate measure of achievement and learning. 

Frankly, his beginning made me worry. As a student, future teacher, and parent, I’m challenged by my own subconscious beliefs because I was raised in a grading-heavy environment. And, my son is in fourth grade. What does this mean for him and his teachers? His school, and previous schools, didn’t use the A-F grading system. They use numbers, 0 to 5, with 5 being beyond grade level. Even though the elementary grading system is not A-F, it’s still a grading system. If we got rid of grades, what would the implications be for transcripts, measuring teachers, choosing which students go to which college, gain scholarships, etc. 

I’m intrigued because grading isn’t necessarily fair. Assignments don’t always take different learning styles, interests, or preferences into account. Do we need to know how students are doing in relation to other students or the teacher’s, national, or state expectations? 

The article hit home for me when I read this passage, “Thus, students who cut corners may not be lazy so much as rational; they are adapting to an environment where good grades, not intellectual exploration, are what count.  They might well say to us, “Hey, you told me the point here is to bring up my GPA, to get on the honor roll.  Well, I’m not stupid:  the easier the assignment, the more likely that I can give you what you want.  So don’t blame me when I try to find the easiest thing to do and end up not learning anything.” Wow. 

I remember being ranked in high school. It did feel like I was one of the herd in a cattle beauty contest. Like Kohn says, “The same effect is witnessed at a school wide level when kids are not just rated but ranked, sending the message that the point isn’t to learn, or even to perform well, but to defeat others.” Alfie Kohn is blowing my mind. I love the fresh, grade-shattering point of view this article brings. However, what would happen if I walked into my new school district as a new teacher, under BITSA and said, “I don’t believe in grades.” Would a school let a teacher get away with that? How do I find a school district or school that supports this kind of thinking? 

I’m even more impressed because Kohn has answers and ideas to help me and other teachers and parents de-grade: “Finally, there is the question of what classroom teachers can do while grades continue to be required.  The short answer is that they should do everything within their power to make grades as invisible as possible for as long as possible.” Then, Kohn goes on to list dozens of suggestions for practical application. I’ve taken this article to heart and hope to find a way to de-grade my classrooms while uplifting my students’ creativity, motivation, and interest.

This article meets NETS for students 4. Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, and Decision Making. Students use critical thinking skills to plan and conduct research, manage projects, solve problems, and make informed decisions using appropriate digital tools and resources. a. Identify and define authentic problems and significant questions for investigation; b. Plan and manage activities to develop a solution or complete a project; c. Collect and analyze data to identify solutions and/or make informed decisions; d. Use multiple processes and diverse perspectives to explore alternative solutions. 

Kohn, A. (1999). From Degrading to De-Grading, High School Magazine. Retrieved from

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