Grades vs. Learning

I am always excited when teachers have students set goals.  In one of my prior districts, one of the schools always had students post goals on their personal blogs and then make them available to other students for comments and feedback.  This was so all students could read them, appreciate that everyone was on different paths, find out how many were on the same path as themselves, and maybe adopt someone else’s goal as their own.

I used to go and read the goals as well.  There were always a lot of different goals posted, but one goal I saw most often was this one:

“Get good grades.”

For a long time seeing that on a lot of student posts bothered me.  Some educators might see it as a good thing, with all the focus being on academics.  But it still rankled me until I finally figured out why:

Not once did I ever see the following posted: “I want to learn/explore/become an expert in _______.”

In my experience with letter grades as we all know them, they are a better indicator of work ethic and completion than actual learning.

Are traditional grades the ultimate goal of what we do with kids all day?  Or is learning the goal?  If we educators say learning and the students say grades, where’s the disconnect between practice (tasks and activities focused on points) and philosophy (we want students to learn)?

Bottom line – if our classroom practices are centered around students completing tasks in exchange for points, learning can never be the focus.  If our classroom practices are built on solving problems, trying, making mistakes, failing, collaborating, redoing, revising, and getting feedback for improvement, learning will always be the focus.  It all circles back to teaching less and giving more feedback.




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