More Failing, Fewer Failures, Greater Success

The November Educational Leadership is devoted to the topic of grading. It includes an article by Alfie Kohn an expanded version of which you can read here: The Case Against Grades.

I’ve given grades. For years I worried about how to get a system right, tried to focus students and their parents on the learning not the grade. I’ve spent countless hours in the foolish pursuit of a better way to grade, the discussion of grade inflation, and what an “A” really means and all the rest of the other distractions from learning.

The more I think about learning, about how children  thrive and about what we – as a society – must ask our schools to do, then the more I know that all the traditional practices of grading and testing –  and all the revamped shiny new versions – are emphatically not what we need

Grades don’t help us learn; they don’t help us try harder; they don’t help us compete; they don’t give us useful information about what to do; and they don’t serve the needs of our learners in school.

We all know learning is about growth. We now all know that knowledge is abundant  to anyone with access to an internet connection. So what we need is what we have always needed: a learning -growth mindset.

And learning  – think about it – is about trial and error. It’s risky. It’s stepping out there. It’s doing something new.  (Think about the child learning to crawl, to walk, to run. It means failing and falling. And along the way the child is cheered, encouraged, supported and successful.)

Learning means failing.

Forty years ago in Wad-ja-get? The grading game in American education  Howard Kirschenbaum, Rodney Napier and Sidney B. Simon  wrote about the corrosive effect of grades on learning. It was true then. It’s true now.

We need kids to grow as learners – doers, thinkers,  makers, creators.  We do not need more test taking successes and failures.

We need real-world problems solved by more people – working together –  whose diverse abilities are called upon to help.

This means more failing and fewer failures. And more success.

Effective Grading Practices? I think that’s an oxymoron.



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