Aha! Aha! Aha?

During my time reflecting on teaching and learning these past 15 months or so,  I have arrived at some significant insights.  Significant for me, at least.  These insights came from reading as well as my journaling.   Sometimes I got there on my own and then stumbled on a post or two that echoed my very thoughts, usually with greather elequence.  Better yet, backed with reasearch.  Other times, what I read got me revisiting and questioning my beliefs and pushed me to grow.  I should and may blog about each insight, but for now, I want to just summarize the biggies.

Aha #1.  Grading, no matter how you slice it, is horribly detrimental to learning.  Some systems more so than others, but they all boil down to judgement handed down by someone who is not the learner, someone in a position of power.  Even when a system is intended to communicate learning, it is received as judgement.  Grades (points, percentages, levels, etc)  do not inspire or motivate, at least not instricially.  They teach compliance, which is not the same as responsibility.  They generate status in classrooms, schools, and communities.  They develop fixed mindsets and negative beliefs about self and learning and school.  They open doors of opportunity for some and close them for others.  I can’t even say they do more harm than good, because there simply is no good.

I say this understanding that most teachers are genuinely interesting in being fair, in doing what is right.  They find or create or use a system that makes sense to them and look for ways to make it efficient and meaningful.   I say this understanding that grading is deeply, so very deeply entrenched in the Institution of School that it is rarely questioned, rarely examined honestly and openly, and incredibly resistant to change.

Yet change is desperately needed.  We need to reject grading and adopt practices that support and foster learning.    I say this with very little to offer of what to do instead, because this is largely uncharted waters.  (Hence my aha with a question mark.) Yet I also say this with absolute conviction.  Grading is broken (always has been), and we need admit that and throw it out, not try to fix it.  Changing how we assess student learning (NOT the students themselves!) requires us to ask why we need to so do in the first place. I think the conversation needs to start there. For me, everything we (teachers, admin, parents) do including assessment should promote learning. Inspire learning. Deepen learning. Celebrate learning. For. Every. Student.

I believe the solution lies with involving students.   The Art of Learning, if you want to call it that, includes metacognition and self-reflection.  Anybody, any age, any where, knows whether or not they are learning, whether or not they understand, where their strengths are and where growth can happen. Frequent student led conferences with teachers and peers, written and verbal reflections, peer and teacher feedback, formative assessments, opportunities to revisit and revise,  and portfolios are all potential components, I think.  I’m certain there’s more.

Its going to require a stronger role from the learner and a more supportive role from the teacher.  It’s going to take effort and patience and flexibility.   Change is always difficult, but the difficulty of the task (and this one is really complex) should not be a deterrent and  is certainly is not a valid reason to maintain “tradition”.  After all, we are talking about the education of our youth, the adults of tomorrow.  Perseverance is mandatory; they’re worth it.

This turned out to be a longer post than I anticipated;  I guess I’m more passionate about this than I realized.   So I’ll close with a quote from David Wees’  latest post:

The goal of teaching though is not to generate specific student performances. The goal of teaching is to produce long-term changes in what students know and can do. While we study performances in classes and use these to make short-term decisions about what to with our students, we should also systematically compare these short-term performances with the long-term changes in student performances that then correspond to their learning.



I’m just going to be blunt.


(such as points, number right/wrong, percent,

proficiency level, letter grade, score, etc etc etc)

on student work

other than actionable feedback

STOPS learning

dead in its tracks.



Although I’ve come to the above realization, I have no idea how to make feedback a reality.  How to make it both effective and manageable.  So I’m starting a virtual file on the topic.

ASCD: 7 Keys to Effective Feedback

Mark Chubb: How do you give feedback?