My experience with grading systems

The reading materials regarding assessment this week reminded me of my school days. I have taken grading or ranking for granted quite a long time because I only experienced that kind of assessment since I entered into the regular school curriculum in Korea. I hadn’t recognized it as a problem much, but looking back, the ranking system made not only teachers have preconceptions about each student, but also students form social groups according to their grades. The students were generally classified into model students who study well and poor students who don’t study well. The focus of teachers and schools was more on the former because the school’s reputation and success are evaluated by how many students go to top universities. This test score-oriented educational atmosphere was also prevailing amongst students. They tended to socialize each other whose ranks are similar because sometimes top students studied separately with others. I assume this grade-focused assessment in school might affect widespread prejudice and discrimination in various fields of Korean society.

On the other hand, from the perspective of a parent of a Kindergarten kid, I admit that sometimes grading assessment makes me easier to identify how my child has been improving briefly and clearly. When I first received my son’s first report card last year, it helped me to understand which subject he needs to help and he is doing well. But without teachers’ narrative comments and conference, it must be difficult to know how to help him to improve some abilities (even though Alfie Kohn pointed out the inefficiency of adding narrative reports).  Another thing I was not able to figure out through his report card was his interests or talent of physical activities, music, or art because it was more about his literacy, math, and sociability.

Although grading must be the easiest and simplest way of assessment of academic achievement, it does not correspond to the primary goal of education as well as assessment. Assessment needs to play a role in discovering and improving students’ interests, capabilities, and talents, not harming them. As more and more innovative endeavors are being carried out in schools, I hope better assessment tools will be developed and spread out.

Mindful learning and teaching

Mindful learning, introduced and discussed by Ellen Langer, brings a new perspective on education, teaching, and learning. She suggested the seven myths that have shaped our educational practices and environments for a long time and dove deeper into how they have negative impacts on both teaching and learning. The 7 misleading but most popular myths of learning are 1) practice basics to they become second nature; 2) focus means paying attention at one thing at a time; 3) delay gratification; 4) rote memory is necessary; 5) forgetting is bad; 6) intelligence is knowing what is out there; and 7) answers are either right or wrong.

What really appealed to me was the idea that why remembering is not always the way to learn, and even decrease retention of information. Ellen Langer said that repetition and practice without reflection and doubt, which means mindlessly learning, does not work well. Also, mindless memorization might lead to being insensitive to contexts and situation. Rather, forgetting what you have learned and how you have learned will help you improve the performance and allows to have innovative thinking and new perspectives. Let me illustrate my experience of mindful learning when I was studying history in high school. I had only relied on simple memorization and repetitive learning techniques for tests, and it worked in the short term but after the exam, every knowledge and information was just gone. At that time, there were several historical dramas being on air, and I found it helpful to learn history, even though they were partly fictional. Watching TV and talking with friends and teachers helped me not only to understand the historical contexts and contents much better and much longer but also to get interested in them. My experience also corresponds to the third myth of delayed gratification. If my learning had been only with books and lectures, I wouldn’t have had an interest in learning history.

In order to provide our children, students, and ourselves with more positive possibilities, just let negative and unnecessary memories go, and let us see the world in new ways.