“What did I get?”
“How can I raise my grade?”
“Do you give extra credit?”
These are questions teachers, especially secondary teachers, hear on a regular basis. It can seem students are more invested in their grade than the process of learning.
But grades are not feedback. They are scores that have a lot of subjectivity tied in with them. Grades don’t actually tell a student or their parents about the learning–what it looked like or if it happened at all. Let’s face it, grades are Summatives–given at the end of something; they tell students about their effort but not about their learning. When many are so focused on the GPA or final grade, learning doesn’t really seem to be discussed or even cared about.
If we want our students to be truly invested in their learning, we have to shift the way we talk about learning with students and parents.
Here are some strategies to make the shift from talking about grades to talking about learning:
- Talk about specific skills rather than the numeric outcome.
- Give feedback–meaningful, specific, timely, purposeful feedback; not a grade.
- Wipe out students’ lowest scores at the end of a grading term. (This lowers the stakes.)
- Encourage student involvement in their own learning process (Give them agency!)
- Allow students to score themselves now and then. (Help them to assess their own learning.)
- Encourage students to retake assessments, essays, projects, etc. to foster learning from prior mistakes.
Grades have a purpose and a place in education, but “…time and time again it is proven that the students who earn those top grades and who perform best on those tests are not necessarily those with the highest level of intellect, but instead are those who are best acclimated to succeed within the framework of the school system itself” (The Grade Network, 2019). If we want students to become lifelong learners, we must shift the focus to learning and feedback and less on scores, grades, and outcomes.