When you have a scenario that involves grades and rankings there becomes one obvious goal that everyone wants to attain: being the winner. The concept of winning is clear in sports, business, and petty arguments with our siblings, but it is not so clear when we bring up education, even though education may be the most relevant example of winning (and losing) to all of us throughout our lives. How “well” you do in school is a direct measure of how you are viewed as a future member of society and how your ability to contribute to a job/career is assessed. I am not going to dwell on the major issues of how assessment stifles learning and thinking critically, which is apparent and well supported (see Alfie Kohn’s article titled “The Case Against Grades”), but rather the overall issue we have as a society with our obsession of being a winner that necessitates on the other end, a loser.
The concept of “extrinsic motivation,” which is manifested via grades in the classroom, seems to only serve as a measure for how we stack up against the rest of our peers. I have been a contributing member all too many times to conversations that involved the question “What grade did you get on the test?” just to be able to see how I ranked against the others and I think it is fair to say that in those classes I was much more satisfied with getting an A vs. understanding the concept. Actually, if I left a test unsure of some of the material, but still ended up with a good grade I was relieved! “Well, I may not have learned the subject, but I got a good grade so I am happy!” It is that type of mindset where I can personally say grading has been detrimental to my own learning experience, but if it helped me not lose in this education game that I was a part of then I was happy.
On the topic of assessment and how winners are being rewarded, Dan Pink brings up the importance of three concepts (autonomy, mastery, and purpose) in his TED talk titled “The Puzzle of Motivation,” which focused on how people are motivated in certain situations. The one point he talks about in his video is autonomy, which is a practice that has shown to allow people the ability to step back from their assessment-driven work and focus on challenging themselves to think of creative solutions to their problems at hand. I really like this idea of autonomy and not having to constantly be checking over your shoulder for what your peer is conjuring up. To pair Pink’s ideas with that of Eric Liu and Scott Noppe-Brandon’s that emphasizes using our imagination to help tackle our issues I feel there is room for a lot of potential for problem solving to occur. And not just problem solving, but really just a successful take on learning. Not having to constantly be comparing ourselves to others via assessment while simultaneously promoting students’ autonomies and imaginations seems like a very attractive educational system to strive for in the future and while I have been a little hesitant to adopt some newer ideas in terms of connected learning thus far these are ideas that have my 100% full support.