Don’t Fall Asleep. Sometimes I feel like grades aren’t measuring our academic abilities as much as they are measuring our ability to stay awake. Maybe this feeling is a bit unfair or maybe it’s showing my inner resentment of not being able to get enough sleep for the last week while having a nasty cold. I’m not sure where the source of this feeling comes from, but sometimes I think we make things harder on ourselves because of grades and sometimes it is vice-versa.
I’m not going to pretend that I haven’t been solely motivated by grades at times, but I’m also not going to pretend I learned much from those classes either. I think how I am feeling this particular week greatly colors how I feel about grades this week. Truth is, I wouldn’t have done this blog if I wasn’t going to get a grade over it. The only reason why I’m doing anything this week is because my grade depends on it and it doesn’t feel like learning. It feels like sleep deprivation and coughing. Now, I know this is atypical week for me, just as last week was. I’m getting over a cold and the one thing that requires is sleep, which unfortunately, graduate schools does not really allow for one to get copious amount of sleep. I took most of Saturday and Sunday off and now, I’m paying for it. But this the truth? Has my education suffered simply because I got a cold? (It feels like it.) Or is it he pressure of making the grade that has me feeling the cold?
Alfie Kohn writes “The Case Against Grades,” in which he discusses educational psychological studies that supported three conclusions about the differences between grade-based students (elementary school to college) and non-grade-based students.
1. “Grades tend to diminish students’ interest in whatever they’re learning.
2.”Grades create a preference for the easiest possible task.”
3. “Grades tend to reduce the quality of students’ thinking.”
I found these conclusions to be interesting, but I had some trouble relating to them outside of my cold feelings.
“Grades tend to diminish students’ interest in whatever they’re learning.” Cold me finds this to be unquestionable. I’m only completing what I have to do instead of learning. Yet, I don’t think this would be true if I were feeling better. There are times when I wouldn’t have done something without grade, but has expanded my interests. Graded assignments have opened doors for me. I have gain interest in topics because of grades. I think it’s difficult to summarize all grades or subjects in a simple conclusion. There are so many factors that play into learning. Do we always need an interest to qualify as learning? Is it mutually exclusive or can grades, interest, and learning have interaction without defining the other?
“Grades tend to reduce the quality of students’ thinking.” This conclusion I had the most trouble relating to. I think that this is something that as a graduate student, it’s difficult to relate to. I remember in some of my classes in high school, I had a teacher who told us to quit thinking, quit overcomplicating it. The problem really was that simple and she couldn’t get us to trust her on the simplicity on it. It’s hard for me to separate the process of learning and grading. I was too busy trying to understand the concept and grades became second. I think that may be how it suppose to be. Grades are suppose to be second to learning; however, it our test-heavy society we have forgotten that.
I think grades are a tricky subject, because I think for good students grades are just a part of the education. However, for some students grades define everything about their education. Grades once again are part of a blanket education that don’t recognize the individuality of the individual. We don’t recognize the uniqueness in students through a grade-based education.
I really enjoy your closing remarks here about grades being part of a blanket education that doesn’t recognize the individual. As a society, we struggle with how to best present and regulate education starting in kindergarten. Standardized tests by name limit individualization; if a student knows enough about the Civil War or multiplication tables, they’ll pass their SOLs, and that is seen as the telling mark of success in Virginia’s public educational system (or at least it was when I was in school). One of the perks of graduate school is the ability to tailor each of my classes to my particular interests; every paper I wrote last year was in the context of sport, which is where my research interests lie. I can also work one-on-one with a professor and work with an advisory committee focused on my research and my thesis. My independent study and mentorship with a professor last semester is where I truly learned the most about conducting research; I learned more here than during my research methods class. Individualized education is the goal, but it is not feasible, which is truly a shame.
It’s interesting to find that good grades don’t mean we learned, and that knowledge we learned from a class won’t necessarily bring us a good grade. Indeed, to achieve a high grade needs not only learning but also hardworking. However, learning is not hardworking in essence; maybe they are just positively correlated with each other. When learning is not equal with hardworking, grades better reflect how hard you work but not how much you learned.