As I was reading Kohn’s (2011) article, a new insight into my own educational history came into view. I was homeschooled from Kindergarten – 12th grade and in my own experience homeschooling I was never given grades.
In describing this to others, I have explained that, “I was expected to do the work and get it right.” So I developed the belief that I should have all of the right answers for any worksheet, assignment, or test that I encountered. When I read a chapter, I felt I should know all of it when I was done. A “passing grade” (though that was not a concept in my mind at the time) was 100%.
Once I reached college and found myself retaining the idea that 100% was the only acceptable grade on tests, quizzes, papers, and other assignments (I was always disappointed when I got a 94 or even 98 on things) I assumed that this was a wrong viewpoint that I had developed based on previous experiences and assumed that I needed to readjust my standards to the “correct” ones that I was doing well if I got an “A” on whatever grading scale we were using (rather than 100%) and that, really, even a “C” should be fine with me, since that was said to be “average” (and who did I think I was to assume I was above average among college students?).
As I read this article it slowly dawned on me that rather than simply having a misunderstanding of grading scales and expectations, I had developed an entirely different view of learning than is perpetuated by environments focused on grades. I had developed habits of learning just to learn. There wasn’t a grade coming at the end. There wasn’t “enough” learning or retention to pass a class. I just did educational activities and learned things. AHA!! Until this moment I had no idea that I had been a living experiment (though not necessarily an intentional experiment) in how students respond to educational opportunities when grades aren’t involved.
This new realization from my own history and experiences has been helpful in continuing to shape my views on education and learning. In the past I had thought, “There’s no way that students would be motivated to learn if there were no formal assessment measures.” I am so appreciative of the realization that I have a lifetime of personal evidence to the contrary. While I still do not lean strongly one direction or the other on whether or not we should continue using grades in formal education, I am thankful to have a new perspective on my own educational experiences and how they have been impacted at various levels of education by grades (or a lack thereof), which has subsequently impacted my later experiences with learning as well.
Kohn, A. (2011). The case against grades. Educational Leadership, 69(3), 28-33.