No More Grades

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!


7 thoughts on “No More Grades

  1. I have exactly same experience and same thought on the grading system what we have now. I also have been brought up by grades, that led me to more focus on how well i’m doing than what i’m doing. I hope that it won’t happen again to my students. I think there will be numerous ways to adapt new evaluation methods that the readings and videos for this week suggested. All we need to do is find the best way to utilize those skills in order to encourage students to do whatever works best for them!


  2. I had a similar experience when I started the readings for this week. I thought grades were a good motivator hadn’t considered about how they were motivating in the wrong way. I hope there’s still time to change student’s learning philosopy in college, but more could be done earlier in the process to allow for a full educational career of engaged learning.


  3. I hadn’t thought about this until now – why *do* we get docked on a question where, even if we accidentally wrote the wrong answer for some reason or another, we demonstrated correct solving of the problem all the way up until that point? Isn’t understanding miles more important? In a real-life situation, you would be able to go back with a fresh mind and realize you had recorded the incorrect answer – the comprehension would still be there. I think I will keep this in mind when I’m grading in the future.


  4. I completely remember the same situation for myself that I forgot a lot of things at an exam or I made terrible mistakes in the calculation because of stress. And the reason behind all these bad performances is stress and fear of grades. I grew up in an educational system that the grade talks about everything, it significantly impacts your future and this is the only reason to keep you motivated. But at this point in my life, I frequently ask myself how much I have learned and how much can I remember from those lessons I memorized and got a good grade on that? Yes, you are right, the fake motivation undermined my learning and creativity. I think more research should be done to come up with strategies to facilitate shifting from the grade-oriented to the learning-oriented system.


  5. I can totally relate to your post and frustrations with grades. I also agree with Kohn’s in “how motivation through grades can undermine the true purpose of learning”. But the one time I had a class where we had to justify the grade we earned and I said obviously an A but I ended with an A- and I got really annoyed. Also, this was in grad school so it was definitely an interesting experience. I thought I had backed up my answer enough and if anything I think everyone in the class deserved an A. So now I feel that I rather just get a grade than get the option to say what grade you think you earned and then getting something else back….


  6. Yes, your point is exactly what I am thinking about grades. Grades move our focus from learning to getting higher GPA. And our motivation becomes getting higher grades instead of learning and applying those subjects to our life or our field. I am a Ph.D. student, and still, I feel annoyed when I get a grade lower than A. But when I think about that situation, I realize that the grade is the least important thing in my life anymore.


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