As our 2nd trimester comes to an end and I prepare final grades I’m left wondering if grades and marks like grades help or hinder learning. I began to wonder about grades and homework after reading some articles written by Alfie Kohn. After reading, Changing the Homework Default I bought Kohn’s book, The Homework Myth (it’s on my to read list). The article alone has led me to do something I was very close to doing anyway, stop giving homework. In my 19 year career I have seen the harm that homework does to families so I mostly stopped giving my students homework aside from allowing more time to finish assignments they didn’t get to finish in class and the occasional blogging homework to encourage reflection. Before reading Kohn’s article I thought homework was beneficial and necessary for learning. Besides there were always a few parents who asked for homework for their child each year. My students will always have the option of doing follow-up or make-up or blog work at home but I’m going to make that purely optional. So yes, my only homework assignments, blogging, are no longer going to be assigned for homework. We are blogging in class and that has made the experience more rich largely because more students are actually doing it!
That was a rather easy change to make and I believe it will be met mostly positively. My next planned change is a bit larger. I was very impressed by Kohn’s article, From Degrading to De-Grading! What impressed me is that it showed me the solution to a problem I’ve been seeing year after year, namely student failure. I have not been happy with the amount of low grades students get in my classes and few of the many things I’ve tried changing in the way I teach have remedied the situation. In other words, no matter what I try I still have students who fail. Sad thing is that in learning failing is essential! It’s when we fail at something and keep trying that we get better and learn. And the part that has been difficult for me to swallow is that I know the work students are doing in my classes is good! I can see their learning everyday and yet if an assignment is missed, lost, or not completed that child gets a low mark and a low average labeling him or her a failure. That is so wrong! So I’m currently reading Punished by Rewards, the Problem with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praises, and other Bribes. I also got The Schools Our Children Deserve: Moving Beyond Traditional Classrooms and Tougher Standards (also added to my reading list). My goal is to create an atmosphere where my students will learn and be excited about learning without worrying about grades. I don’t want to discourage children with anything considered a low mark. So many kids get turned off to learning because of a low grade.
I will be sending a letter home with students to share with parents my plan for grading in the 3rd and last trimester of this year. Since I can’t do away with all grades, much as I’d like, I will implement an evaluation scheme much like the elementary where I will let families know how students are learning the WA state Science standards with which my curriculum aligns. More on that later. In the meantime I’ve put together a short survey, just six questions, to see what parents believe about grades and learning.