Blow up the Gradebook?

A response to Dr. Chris Haskell’s presentation. A video of the presentation can be found at the bottom of this post.

As a teacher, I have been thinking about the role that grades play in my class. The thoughts of Dr. Haskell reflect many of the same thoughts and ideas that come from the superintendent of my school district. Both Dr. Haskell and my superintendent feel that homework, grades, and rigid classroom structures can inhibit student learning. Students often want to know what is absolutely necessary for me to know to get the grade they want in the class. The more experience I gain teaching, the more I realize that homework and grades are not necessary for students to learn and be successful. Just as Dr. Haskell mentions, educators and students would benefit from changing the way learning is structured in classes.

When it comes to homework, Dr. Haskell’s point about it being an indicator of parental involvement is spot on. I used to think that homework was a necessary part of school because that’s what my school experience was. But I’m starting to believe that’s not true. With elementary students, homework will almost always fall on parents. Occasionally there will be some self-motivated–and capable–students who can and will do their homework without being pushed by their parents. More often than not, Mom or Dad are the reason homework gets done. Students spend enough time working hard at school. I really think that they need time to be kids when they are at home.

Due dates aren’t something I’ve dealt much with as a teacher, but I have plenty of experience from the standpoint of a student. With my classroom, most things are completed the same day in class. The small amount of reading practice assigned to my students is due once a week, but that’s just to help me keep organized. As a student, I related to what Dr. Haskell said about due dates. If you give a week, I’ll take a week. I don’t know why that is, but it’s true. I have never been the kind of student who was motivated enough to get things done early unless I have a strong reason to. While I’m not sure that due dates should be eliminated completely, I think that teachers need to have flexibility with them. Teachers need to accept learning even when it doesn’t happen on their timetable. Most students need something to help them stay on track, so when used wisely, due dates can be useful.

Student choice is something that I have thought a lot about with the beginning of the new school year. With a quest-based learning model like Dr. Haskell described, there is a lot of room for students to have a choice in their learning. The idea of student choice is a place where my superintendent differs in opinion from Dr. Haskell. I had the “privilege” of sitting through a back to school meeting where our superintendent lectured that student choice and individualized learning are not realistic ideas for our classrooms. I think that he missed the point of student choice. With a quest-based learning model, students have different opportunities to show what they are learning. It’s not a “one size fits all” experience. As a student in a class using a quest model, I can say that I like it. I can see where I’m at and know what I need to do in order to be successful. I think that it would be awesome if all classes could be designed in similar ways.

There is some need to change how learning happens in classrooms. I’m not saying that traditional models need to be thrown out, but some ideas could go. Grades really don’t tell anything other than what your average success or effort was in a class. Grades don’t really show how much a student knows at that point in time. We punish them with a bad grade because they didn’t learn everything the first time around. I think that grades don’t acknowledge that learning can and should happen at any time. They always give a sense of finality. I would like to see educators move towards a model that rewards learning whenever it happens.

Throwing out grades will mean breaking from tradition, but if people were always afraid of letting go of traditions, we wouldn’t have the world we do today.

 

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