The first time I heard about a college that didn’t give out grades, I had a knee jerk, dismissive and appalled reaction. My friend told me about a college in Scotland where students were graded only on a pass/fail basis; it seemed so odd. How do they measure students? Would the students even come to class if they weren’t being regularly measured on their understanding of the concepts? Would they learn anything?
In the readings for this week, we were introduced to the concept of grade-free learning. To be fair, this differs a bit from the college which I mentioned earlier. The college based their pass/fail decision on an end of semester test with a minimum score that demonstrated proficiency. The concepts we were introduced to were much more comprehensive in their measurement standards, but my initial reaction was the same. Would this actually work? Will they really learn?
Then, I watched the video from Dan Pink about how motivation works. In his TED talk, he explained how the carrot and stick model of motivation, which companies use quite often to motivate their employees, often stifles creativity and lowers productivity. Afterwards, I watched a video by Sir Kennith Robinson. In which, he talks about how we educate our children from the waist up until we are only focused on educating their right brain. He then argues that this sort of education is limits students in their creativity and ability to overcome being wrong. He also argues that the model of education worked to train pupils for factory work but is inadequate for preparing students for the modern era.
The other reading that stuck out to me from this week was the one by Alfie Kohn. He argues that we have known the grading system to be problematic since the 1930s, yet we have continued to use it.
My initial negative reaction to the grade free system can be boiled down into two parts. One is the aversion to change, and two is the lack of a clear picture of what grading does to the student. I had this idea that we must be using this system for so long because it works and is the best option we have available. Why would we change something that doesn’t need changing? I’m realizing now the naivety of that viewpoint. If our goals as educators is to provide an education that engages the whole student, then it seems that change is what is necessary.