Week 9: Blog post

Do grades get in the way of learning?

While I was pursuing my Master’s degree (in a different college/department) I became aware of an interesting and widespread phenomenon:  the attainment of knowledge about a subject, while desirable, was secondary to the attainment of an A.

Many people would say that one cannot get an A in a class without a deep understanding of the course material and, while I wouldn’t say that is entirely incorrect, I would say that if a student understands *how* to get an A, and she sets her focus on the attainment of an A, she is not likely to explore the topic any further than it takes to get that A.

The problem here is that, for many students, the attainment of a grade takes precedence over the attainment of knowledge.  It has been drilled into us to think that way.  Since grade school, our parents have always asked us what we got in a course (meaning what grade), not what we got OUT of a course (meaning what knowledge).

Furthermore, I believe this “grades over learning” mindset gets in the way of my teaching.  It is difficult to get students to “let go” and just learn because they are always so concerned about their grade.  I often think that if I could just do away with grades, I could get through to them better.

I have found that other teachers have a similar opinion on grades.    In “Students Don’t Need Grades.  Instead, They Need to Learn.”, Madeline Holler states:

“Homework, gold stars, lost recess and the almighty A+? Those actually thwart a child’s native sense of wonder. Not only are they motivation killers but they actually stunt real learning — exploration, connection of ideas, experimentation — and turn school into a kind of game. Which hoops do I need to jump through? Okay, those and only those will I jump through. Forget about risk-taking. That GPA is on your permanent record.”

While this argument is very appealing to me, I know that if I were to eliminate grades from my classes, many (most) of my students would simply learn nothing.  It’s unfortunate, but I’m afraid that we have taught our children to learn only for a reward, not just for the sake of learning.

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One thought on “Week 9: Blog post

  1. It’s funny, as I was reading about your comment about parents asking what their children got in the course, I was reminded of my childhood. It is so very true that we ask what kids get and not get out of what they are learning. I also agree that to switch away from a grades-based system would reek havik on educators’ lives. I came across this article and thought of your post.
    http://www.edutopia.org/stw-college-career-stem-assessment

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