Something Has Got To Give

Warning: the following post will come out as a jumble of thoughts and words. Prepare yourself.

I can’t even tell you how many classes that I have been a student of where the conversation has meandered over into the debate over the value of grades. Every time the feeling of the majority is that grades are bad and qualitative assessments are good, and yet I have never seen anybody (including the instructor) make efforts to move in that direction. This all sounds well and good. A healthier educational environment sounds great. Students that love to learn and are intrinsically motivated to do so sounds cool. I am a little hesitant in fully throwing out the grading system without some actual plan in place that is not the exception to the rule, but a lot of people are complaining for it.

I’m not calling anybody out. I think that I am so exasperated with the current environment (politically and academically), that I am hoping to eventually see a shift in the current. I hope to see my peers or instructors listen to their own opinions and take action.

This torch is once again picked up in Alfie Kohn’s “The Case Against Grades“. Overall, I understand Kohn’s points and where they come from, but some parts of me are frustrated. I have been feeling a shift in the students I see as schools shift to being gentler. Everybody gets a trophy. Don’t use red ink. Etc, etc, etc. As such, I have students walking in with a sense of entitlement that they have already earned an ‘A’ in the class just for being present. I wonder how students would take to being qualitatively graded. Right now, the studies mentioned feel like they are the exception to the rule. I hope they are not.

Either way, I think the focus needs to be on influencing students’ intrinsic motivation.The intrinsic motivation is an important, if not the most, important element to consider. Having students be intrinsically motivated is not only good for their education, but vital for their existences as well as our cultural existence as a whole.In Liu and Brandon’s book “Imagination First”, there is much discussion over the need to allow for imagination to thrive. Right now, it seems to be suffocating. Perhaps, if that feeling of intrinsic motivation is instilled in students from the get-go, imagination will become an abundant resource once more.

One side argument regarding pure qualitative grading: I know how much public elementary school teachers work. I know how much is demanded of them from their administration and government. I know what stress standardized testing has placed on them. If qualitative grading is enforced then something has got to give. Teachers are not paid or respected nearly enough as is to then expect them to adopt this qualitative grading model with ease. I think that most teachers who have “heard the call” would love to incorporate it, but like I said something would have to give somewhere else. Writing 30 qualitative grading reports on a semi-frequent basis is extremely demanding. Yes, maybe research has shown students benefit from this, but what about the teachers? They do not receive nearly enough support to enforce such a system at this point in time.For the most part, teachers want what is best for their students and to provide them with a “learning community”. That being said, that is a lot to just place on their shoulders. Reflecting back to last week’s Ted Talk by Ken Robinson, I think there needs to be more discussion regarding the government and administration’s role in curriculum planning and testing. If we want real change, we can’t just pester poor teachers to follow along with what we think is best for students. Something has got to give.

7 thoughts on “Something Has Got To Give”

  1. I’d respond to each part of this post but I’m gonna save you the hassle of reading it and say: I AGREE WITH THIS ENTIRE POST. THANK YOU.


  2. Thank you for bringing up the aspects of frustration as you have in your post Meghan. You bring up some vital points that we need to consider as educators if we want to move anywhere beyond this current moment when we realize “this isn’t working” and we don’t have any clue how to incorporate whatever “works”.


  3. I totally agree, that as much as it is the role of professors to amend the grading system, school’ administrations and governments are crucial in putting a framework in place. Grading does not always solely rely on the instructor.


  4. So much to talk about here — And as someone who does undertake qualitative / collaborative feedback for students on a weekly basis and I can confirm that it does indeed take a lot of time! I think it’s worth it in terms of the kind of learning that happens and it’s a lot more interesting than “grading” — but there are trade offs to be sure.


  5. I also agree with you, Meghan. Wholly. I want to focus on one piece of your blog post. I think that your point about the ways that kinder and gentler K-12 experiences are shaping students is a very important piece of the larger problem–that students and parents measure success by grades. As long as they are ranked at or near the top, all is well. Not only is the focus shifted from the joy of learning to the reward of praise inspired by top grades, it is harder to focus on learning because there is belief that the “A”earned implies mastery of the subject. Can we create an environment in which a “C” just means that you have more to learn and “A”s indicate truly exceptional work? And that neither one speaks to your worth as a person? Or your parents’ measure of success?


  6. Great post. I think your conclusion hints at the right way to go on this (e.g. “I think there needs to be more discussion regarding the government and administration’s role in curriculum planning and testing. If we want real change, we can’t just pester poor teachers to follow along with what we think is best for students. Something has got to give.”)


  7. I completely agree with your post. I think that there definitly needs to be some major changes in the system as a whole in order to really make a difference. Like you said I’m sure most teacher would love to be able to give qualitative feed back but they are already stretched so thin. You used the example of K-12 teachers but I think the same holds true for professors as well, especially in intro classes that can have 200+ students.


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