Thursday, 25 July 2013

Would getting rid of grades make for happier students?

On Monday night, Dean Shareski (@shareski),  who everyone on Twitter should follow, tweeted the statement below.  I have thought a lot about his tweet, especially because I retweeted it immediately upon reading it, then I began to question it.

When I first read the tweet, my gut reaction was "Of course, being happy is incredibly important, more important than often meaningless letter grades."  But then I began to think about the ramifications of failing every class in high school (the context I'm familiar with).  If a student doesn't earn a high school diploma, opportunities in life become rather limited.  I can't help but think that the happiness experienced while failing school will be short lived.

Gord Holden's response to the tweet (above) helps put into context what I believe in my heart.  I agree with him that education is "learning how to achieve satisfaction in life".  But Shareski's response that "folks...focused on things they can easily measure" brings to light the struggle in education.  How on earth can you measure "achieving satisfaction in life"?  It is much easier to give the students a literacy test to determine if they are literate.

I think the problem--and why I might prefer students to fail and be happy, rather than be miserable from the stress of earning A's--is that we celebrate the students who get the A's, even if they really haven't learned anything.  Students who are failing might actually be learning more than the students who are getting A's.  I've only been a teacher for a short time, but I am finding it irritating that the criteria for winning the subject awards at my school is simply to have the highest grade.  Most students are focused on getting good grades and not on actual learning.  When we celebrate mostly students with top marks, we send the message that what we value most are A's, not learning and not happiness.

There is most certainly a shift towards fostering learning for learning's sake, but the stumbling block of determining grades is still predominantly present.  I wonder if we got rid of grades if we would have happier students who are learning more and who will see greater success.

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