Our Students Must Become Life-long Learners
Learning is not a product of schooling but the lifelong attempt to acquire it. – Albert Einstein
I read about a school that didn’t give their students grades for several weeks. This was in English classes. According to them, they had found research that showed the adverse effects that grades had on students’ academics; preventing the students from genuine reflections, diminishing their interests in learning, reducing academic risk-taking, and decreasing the quality of their thinking.
Also, in terms of the other effects of grading on the mental and emotional health of students, a 2002 study conducted by a University of Michigan psychologist showed that 80 percent of students based their self-worth on their academic successes, leading to low self-esteem and mental-health issues.
The school studied had grades sent electronically to parents, and they received immediate feedback from both the parents and students, who had become anxious about the grades, with the school getting frustrated at having to defend the grades assigned to students. When the opportunity arose for a deviation from grading, it was liberating and the principal approved the plan. Letter were subsequently sent to families explaining the research and the reason for withholding grades, while teachers also set up a closed Facebook group where daily images were shared, and weekly emails updates were sent to parents to keep them abreast of the learning process.
It mostly went well, according to the teachers, and the students became incredibly engaged, with their focus no longer being on the usual form of compensation. Sometimes teachers were driven to increase performance points to improve motivation or to move on. In that situation, however, everything was low risk for the students, as they were more excited and willing to focus on their work.
The twist was that there was more communication with the parents, who were confused by this, being more accustomed to using grades to benchmark performance. Reading detailed sentences about their children’s comprehension was too much for them. The parents valued numerical evaluation as more informative and meaningful than frequent written and spoken descriptions.
The thing that the experience shows is that most of us have become conditioned to see the products of learning as a sort of validation, while the process is less affirming to us.
In this manner, a degree is often validating regardless of actual skills, yet a test score can never illustrate the several hours spent studying to achieve it. Being able to learn for its own sake represents intrinsic motivation, while grades and other accolades represent extrinsic motivation. Research depicts that intrinsic motivation leads to more profound learning. The underlying fact is that the willingness to learn leads to achievement, but so often achievement is the only part that matters to others.
If we are to face it, the reality is that grades have power. Most parents desire the best for their children, and to most of them this includes quality college education and a well paying job. Test scores and grades are critical in the current academic system for achieving these goals.
So while parents might see a 96 percent score and be exultant about it, many don’t actually realise the work that led to this. The problem lies when the product itself is elevated above the process, and questions of improvement revolve around getting an A and not mastering skills.
There is an ugly side of students being highly motivated by grades and test scores, as they do anything to achieve such grades and the pressure is relentless. Just recently, I read a post about a young boy who desired to pour acid on a female student who he felt was his main rival and competitor for the top position in their class.
The irony is that the key factors that translate to concrete achievement in the real world, including the willingness to keep learning, engagement, enthusiasm, motivation, and increasing determination, are neglected while they are actually the ones that create the stepping stone for success in everyday life.
As a parent and an educator, what I want for our children is a love of learning, a driving passion for being better at something that matters to them, and educators who know the power of such desire as well.
Let’s give our children the breathing room to truly enjoy learning.
Help us with our mission to bring about change for our students. Please contact me to see what we can do to bring about the desired transformation that we all desire for our children to be future ready!!!
Adetola Salau; Educator / Speaker / Author/ Social Entrepreneur / Innovator
She is an Advocate of STEM Education and is Passionate about Education reform. She is an innovative thinker and strives for our society & continent as a whole to reclaim it’s greatness. She runs an educational foundation with the mission to transform education.