Wednesday, May 06, 2009

How Can You Have Any Pudding If You Don't Eat Your Meat: The Effectiveness of Grades

Thinking about grades for obvious reasons. I am ambivalent about grades. On the one hand, it is certainly true that students rise to expectations and the mechanism by which those expectations are communicated is grading work. If one teacher gives the easy A and another doesn't, students will tend -- all other things being equal --- to work harder and learn more for the tougher teacher.

At the same time, grades replace the true purpose of the class. The goal becomes to get a grade, not to become smarter, better trained, more well-read, well-rounded, or a deeper, more thoughtful intellectual. Grades, in this way, keep students from working and learning. Surely, we've all been in the position, "I'm going to get a B, no mattter what, so why think about it?" Or then there are those who are so worried about their grades that they take no risks because it is better to play it safe and get a sure ok grade, then to really try something interesting and risk a swing and a miss because teachers are always there with the red pen to punish misteps, no matter how well intentioned.

So, do grades help or hurt? Do they turn education into a commodity and strip it of its true joy and value or is it necessary for making sure a minimum amount of learning takes place? how can we take the emphasis off of grades, if we keep them?