“Talking about assessment and grades misses out on the important part of the story–the learning.”
Since the beginning of my teaching career, I have grappled with the idea of grades and their place in education. Grades seemed to motivate me when I was younger, but then again, they also intimidated me. I was the kind of kid that wanted to do well, and getting a good grade meant that I was a “worthy” student. But, when I got a less than stellar grade, something happened…I lost a little bit of confidence, I saw myself as just an “ok” student, and not a “great” student. What was really going on? I was letting grades define how I saw myself as a student. The work was interesting to me, but what really seemed to tell me whether or not I was a capable student was what my final grade was on any given quiz, test or project. To this day, I often describe myself as, “not a good test-taker” to help explain why I’m smart but don’t always “perform” well on tests.
Kelly Christopherson’s article, “Let’s talk about the learning..not the grading” focuses on better ways to teach kids that don’t result in a grade. According to Christopherson, teachers have been moving away from grading for years. They’ve started to use Student Led Conferences, flexible deadlines, rubrics, formative assessments, project learning and moved away from final tests and exams. But, this shift tends to happen not when looking at where grading goes wrong, but instead focusing on what students need to know today and in the future. When you move away from the direct talk of grades, and discuss what and how students learn, the shift away from grades happens naturally.
I agree with Christopherson, and in my many observations in schools around the area, I see great teaching and much of it has branched away from the more traditional classroom assessments. However, it seems to me that there is still such a long way to go. Is it possible for teachers to really walk away from grades, and yet still have to be held accountable to SOL testing? If schools and school districts mandate assessments throughout the year, doesn’t this go directly against what teachers are trying to do in their classrooms? As Christopherson states in his article, “many people and companies [and schools!] say they want people to be risk-takers and innovative yet they don’t reward people for being risk-takers and innovators.” How can the members within the system change, if the system itself hasn’t really changed?
It seems to me, that we are trying to make everyone happy, and in the process, we aren’t really focusing on the learning or helping children be innovative, risk-takers, global learners, collaborative, etc. Instead of all the talk, I think it would be helpful if teachers and administrators could learn about schools that are making these changes and that are finding success in doing it. In education, we love to talk about the latest theories, but wouldn’t it be cool if more focus could be spent showing examples of schools implementing changes to embrace 21st century learners? Instead of just the talk, how can we experience the change? I mean, really…how are workplaces changes? How are cities focusing on innovation and creativity? This change needs to infiltrate all levels of our culture. And, there have to be classrooms and schools out there that are really pushing the boundary of future education. I think it would be helpful for teachers to be able to see and learn about these changes first hand.