My Teachable Point of View: #1 Grades Are Overrated

I hope you enjoy this and the following two blog posts. I plan to share three of my own Teachable Points of View (TPOV) in these posts. As a member of Learning Forward’s Academy class of 2019, we have been asked to write and share three of our TPOVs. It has been a great exercise to write down and share the ideas that are at the core of my professionalism. Enjoy as you get to know me and what I am passionate about as an educator.

Why do students need to receive grades and what do grades really mean? I struggle with the emphasis our society puts on grades. I would much rather see families and schools focus on creating autonomous learners. Learner autonomy should be fostered when we are young. After all, learning is a job we will always have. As I see it, learning and knowing is the key to being a successful, productive person. Do grades help us achieve a high degree of autonomous learning? I don’t think so.

I received grades during the first nine years I went to school, just like almost every other child that attends school. That all changed for me when I entered my sophomore year of high school. I was a gifted athlete, and that year I left home to attend an athletic academy. I was there to work on being the best I could in my sport. Along with the vigorous athletic training, I was also introduced to a new phenomenon: no grades were to be issued to the students at my school. The new atmosphere was foreign. School was easy, but only because I was not applying myself or engaged in learning for myself. About three months into the school year things changed. A discussion with a teacher led me to the realization that being a learner for my own self had meaning. It took some time to pick up the pace scholastically and embrace my own learning, but with guidance from teachers I eventually succeeded in the no-grade learning environment.

Since high school I’ve continued to embrace some thoughts about being autonomous in my learning:

  1. Knowledge is useful to me
  2. Keep on learning
  3. Knowledge should be shared
  4. Learn to understand what interests you

Being an autonomous learner is not simple, but an environment where every student is in charge of their own learning and setting their own learning goals can have many benefits. And in my experience, this type of program can be done well, and grades do not need to be a part of the process. Teachers give their students the guidance and skills to promote learning. I made the decision to do the work, and I was given the toolkit to help that happen. It takes a student-teacher partnership as well as a supportive and facilitated learning environment. It definitely does not take a letter or percentage grade.

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