I’ve never really liked grades as a student. I remember in one stats class, I rushed through an exam and miscalculated something, although the formula was right. I got partial credit and I thought about how silly that was. I clearly understood the subject matter, and outside of a test situation I would have had time to check my work. I absolutely hated how easy it was for your GPA to drop from one bad class, but your GPA couldn’t go past a 4.0 no matter how well you did. But still, I was motivated by grades… in my mind my entire future depended on it!
As I started doing this weeks readings and watching videos, I initially thought about how grades motivated me to do “better” and how they might be useful for those it helps. But then I came across a point from Alfie Kohn’s “The Case Against Grades” about how motivation through grades can undermine the true purpose of learning. I also really liked the idea brought up in Dan Pink’s TedX talk about how money can only be used as motivation. He says if you pay people enough so that they are not thinking about money, they will think more about the work. Just like that I think grades can motivate people, just like some amount of money can motivate people, but in both cases it’s not the right type of motivation to foster creativity and mindfulness in what you are doing because you are not focused on the right thing. This sentence also came to mind from Kohn’s paper… “the more students are led to focus on how well they’re doing, the less engaged they tend to be with what they’re doing.” This all ties back to last week in class and our discussion around mindful learning versus mindlessness.
I really think I would like to incorporate these ideas into my teaching philosophy and teach without grades (or at least diluted grades). Kohn has some great ideas about providing qualitative feedback to students instead and not falling into the trap of categorizing students still. I wonder though if teaching in this way too late in the game (college level) is too late for students to become mindful learners. I also think about my ability to apply this concept to the fullest as a teacher, since I have been brought up by grades. I hope I can!