Monday, May 23, 2011

Does Grading Impede Learning?

This morning, a colleague came to me for help.  She had an assignment for a graduate ed-tech course in which she needed to create a podcast that included background music using Audacity. 

I've worked with this teacher before on using technology in her classroom.  She took the 3-credit non-graded Ed-tech course that I offered in the winter.  I've seen her explore new technologies, experiment with sites in which she had no experience, and try new things in her classroom.

This morning, though, she was very nervous about using Audacity, even though she had been exposed to it before.  She even described to me her Friday afternoon, when her anxiety over creating the podcast brought her to tears.  I was wondering why she was having such a tough time until she made the following statement to me: 

"I always get this nervous when the assignment is graded."

How many of our students feel the same way? 

Sometimes, as educators, I think that we get confused into thinking our purpose is to evaluate our students rather than foster their learning.  It's a natural pitfall that's built into our educational system.  We evaluate students to determine who makes the honor roll.  We rank students' GPA for colleges and awards.  We assess children to the point of lunacy in order to measure the success of teachers, schools, and districts. 

I'm not advocating that we eliminate grades.  I'm just wondering if there's a way to take the focus off the grades and get it back on the learning. 

My son is finishing his last year of pre-school in a few weeks.  I'm amazed by how the majority of the kids in his pre-school class love to learn in that classroom.  Unfortunately, something happens between pre-school and high school which changes that.

When I think about some of the students in my class that are toughest to motivate, I can recall many times when they've come up to me with something they found interesting on the History Channel, or the internet, or something their father told them at his shop.  I'm forced to conclude that they haven't lost the motivation to learn.  They've lost the motivation to learn at school. 

There are probably many reasons for that loss of motivation.  How much of a factor is our current focus on grading?  How can we keep the natural wonder that most kids have in pre-school from vanishing as they progress through our schools?