Another dot in the blogosphere?

Grade less, learn more

Posted on: June 21, 2012

Grading Papers All Day (9/365) by Ms. Tina, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  by  Ms. Tina 

Walking about in a mall, I saw a promotion to Pay Less, Taste More. Our Ministry of Education advocates Teach Less, Learn More.

After reading these three articles and reflections, I think we could and should Grade Less, Learn More.

The first piece by Bud the Teacher started the ball rolling . In his own words:

For starters, I think teachers, in general, grade too many things. So one way to streamline would be to “grade” less. And that doesn’t mean that teachers shouldn’t ask students to write, and write often. But we don’t need to grade everything that comes to us. In fact, we should grade very little of it.

In the context of writing, Bud went on to say that teachers have built up the wrong expectations that they are their students’ only audience and that they alone evaluate what that writing is worth.

He argued that technology should not be the means of streamlining grading when the problem lay with the assumptions, design, and expectations of grading.

Put another way, the questions he might have asked could include: Why are students writing for just one person? Why not leverage on authentic and public writing spheres? Why not approach the task as a fellow reader and learner in order to critique instead of just grade?

Cathy Davidson wrote the second article and she was as thought-provoking as always.

She started by describing seven reasons why standardized testing, while great for grading, are not that great for evaluating learning. So she suggested a key alternative: Get learners to create by learning how to code.

I do not think that all learners need to code, but I do think that all learners need to be given the freedom and opportunity to express themselves and to create. Only then are they putting theory into practice. Only then are they making mistakes. Only then are they really trying.

As a result of reading these and other articles, I had to ask myself if I had reflected on these issues before. I had in the third piece.

Two years ago, I had concluded that modernizing a problem (e.g., creating grading software) was not the solution. We might create more intelligent systems, but the problem of testing irrelevant skills in irrelevant ways would still remain.

No, the solution lies in questioning the established but problematic model. It starts with accepting that grading more sometimes leads to learning less.

Grading takes time and students do not get timely feedback. Students do not pick up as much content or as many skills as teachers wish. Teachers do all they can to keep up with the grading load and do not have the bandwidth to learn new strategies.

A solution might lie in figuring out how to grade less so that everyone learns more. By grading less I do not mean asking for lazier teachers. We need teachers who question, learn, and act on what they realize is better for their learners.

Teachers could grade less by redesigning tests and focusing on key things that need grading. They could leverage on their learners’ need to communicate, create, and critique. Teachers could model these life skills and teach their students to peer assess in authentic environments.

As they do this, I bet they would learn more about what their learners are capable of and what new value they as teachers bring to the table.

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