Grading? Get Rid Of It!

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I recently had a graduating student confide in me that he only had one regret about his education so far.  He wished he had focussed less on marks and more on learning.  I was sad for him for realizing he’d missed the boat, and also astonished that he realized his straight A report card wasn’t really worth the time he’d spent earning it.  Schools aren’t set up for students to take the kind of risk it takes to focus on learning.  The almighty letter grade can mean getting in to your university of choice – or not.

Deep learning is messy and wrought with failures and setbacks.  High marks don’t always take students on that kind of a journey.  In general, if you do the work with mostly the “right” answers and participate well in class, a good mark is coming your way.  Just follow the dotted line and you’re golden.

I just can’t like that.

This article from the Globe and Mail, by Elyse Watkins, is interesting and more evidence that we need to change the focus back to learning and away from letter grades.  She argues that “we need to prevent this “currency” from being misused as the only worth of a student’s learning”.  I couldn’t agree more!

If we want better students, end the 19th-century ‘grading game’

 

Letter Grades Again…

b-school-letter-gradeLetter grades, and their value in learning, are being brought into question with increasing frequency.  You may recall that I am not a supporter of letter grades in our schools.  They are subjective and relatively meaningless.  And, worse, they take the focus away from LEARNING and put it on COMPARING.  Jordan Tinney, Superintendent/CEO of the largest school district in BC, has written a piece about letter grades – what do letter grades have to do with performance? He asks where, in the real world, are we ever evaluated with a percent and a letter grade. It’s worth a read!

What Do Letter Grades Have to Do With Performance?

Motivation Doesn’t Come From Focussing on Grades

Kids need to dream big dreams in order to grow and learn.  “A” just doesn’t seem quite big enough to me.  What does “A” really mean?  I think it means you remembered a lot.  I don’t think it necessarily means you grew and learned.

Research into “growth mindset” can help us understand some ways we can raise kids to be hardy, resilient, and persistent. It’s good for human brains!

 

Collaborative Inquiry

I’ve been lucky to work with a group of engaged, forward thinking, learning professionals recently and for an extended period of years.  Collaborative inquiry is the way we work.  We’ve been forging a new path at our mid-sized high school that empowers students to engage in their own inquiries and independent studies.  We think together, read together, talk together, plan together and teach together.  Oh, and we have fun together, too.

We’re a pretty diverse group of individuals.  But we share a common idea and we dig pretty deeply into it to nurture it and make it grow.  We’re proud of our program.  It’s been a journey – and one that I hope to continue.

This article is an easy read that outlines the conditions that are necessary for professional growth through collaborative inquiry.  Have a read!

Collaborative Inquiry:  empowering teachers in their professional development

Single Stories Are Not Fair to Learners

In her article, Mitigating the Dangers of a Single Story:  Creating Large-Scale Writing Assessments Aligned With Sociocultural Theory, Nadia Behizadeh says:

If a child does not perform well on [one timed large-scale assessment essay], there will be a single story told about this student: he/she has below basic skills in writing, or maybe even far below basic skills. Yet this same student may be a brilliant poet or have a hundred pages of a first novel carefully stowed in his/her backpack. However, when a single story of deficiency is repeated again and again to a student, that student develops low writing self-efficacy and a poor self-concept of himself/herself as a writer. . . . [T]he danger of the single story is the negative effect on students when one piece of writing on a decontextualized prompt is used to represent writing ability. (pp. 125-126)

http://edr.sagepub.com/content/43/3/125

Large scale assessment needs to change – particularly in how it’s used.  It really doesn’t tell us about learning.

Final Exams – Do they support learning?

Exams have evolved over recent years.  It wasn’t long ago that every academic grade 12 subject was concluded with  BC government-issued exam.   Teachers were clear about the “pressure to teach to the exam”.  Students were stressed by having to study for an exam that was heavily content based.  Little was revealed about deep student learning or their ability to create meaning.

But some teachers continue the tradition of final exams because that’s what’s always been done.  Chris Kennedy, Superintendent of Schools in West Van, outlines this well in his blog entry (well worth cruising through his whole blog, by the way).

It’s time to assess assessment!  Final exams are one very narrow way to assess student learning.

Improving Standardized Test Scores….

…. doesn’t necessarily improve cognitive abilities.  A new MIT study has found that schools that are very good at improving test scores (labelled “crystallized abilities” in this study) don’t necessarily see the same improvements in abstract or creative thinking (labelled “fluid thinking”).

Improving test scores isn’t a bad thing.  Better Math and Reading abilities can do nothing but help our kids.

AND it’s time for us to focus on improving creativity, inductive reasoning, executive function… fluid thinking.