The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education (Albert Einstein)

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In this module we have been involved in student-centred learning, becoming independent learners by actively choosing topics of interest for our blogs. My central focus has been on evaluating the grading process.  Grading is an integral part of the education system, yet its use is often questionable.

My initial blogs focused on the issues with grading, with the belief that with certain adjustments, the grading process could be improved. For example, there is a disparity between the subjective process of grading, and the ‘objective’ assessment produced (Kohn, 1994). Markers aren’t machines, and are subjected to a number of influences in the grading process (York, Bridges & Woolf, 2000). Therefore educators must decide whether to follow strict guidelines (or use automated marking) to obtain objectivity and reliability, or accept the subjectivity of grading, allowing students to surpass the mark scheme through novel creativity.

As I gained more insight into the unfavourable effects of grading, I realised I was naive to think that grades were an educational practice worth improving. Education should not focus on how to adjust grading, but question why we are even using it in the first place (Kohn, 1994). Creativity, student centred learning and treating students as individuals are concepts that have been identified over the semester as the building blocks of an effective learning environment. These principles could be implemented successfully in education, yet not alongside the current grading structures we have now. Grading stifles student’s creativity (Kohn, 2011), encourages destructive compliance and unhealthy competition amongst peers (Rohe et al., 2006). As a result, students are no longer intrinsically motivated in their learning, focusing on extrinsic, tangible rewards (Butler, 1988).

From my blogs I established that the grading system is broken beyond repair, and the provision of qualitative feedback as a replacement for grades could be the answer (Lipnevick & Smith, 2008). The removal of grades will reduce the ‘fear of failure’ that has accumulated in students, providing them a safe environment to engage in creative discovery learning (Bower, 2013). Hopefully, students will then begin to focus not on how well they’re doing, but what they’re actually doing (Bower, 2011).

Kat ‘s comment on my blog last week suggested that providing individualised feedback may be difficult to achieve due to teachers’ time constraints. This is a valid point, however if a teacher was grading accurately, it could be argued that they should be cognitively processing individualised feedback anyway, in order to provide the student with the correct grade. Therefore why not externalise these cognitive thought processes onto paper as feedback? In addition, a new focus on student-centred learning requires the teacher to act as a facilitator of learning, rather than the instructor (Biesta, 2009). Students’ increase in independence and autonomy should increase the time available for the teacher to produce individualised feedback for all students. The teacher’s main role shifts from the dictator of knowledge to the provider of informative feedback, with the student now taking an active role in the learning process.

Feedback is not necessarily the definitive solution; but any step towards student-directed learning is positive progression. Education should produce well-balanced, intrinsically motivated learners, not lists of uninformative grades, and using feedback instead of grades will help promote this.

Inevitably we must question the purpose of education. As suggested by Biesta (2009), the current system measures what is easily quantifiable in education (performance), not what we value (learning). Grades reduce the effort required off students, who can passively engage in learning, and teachers, who allow the grades to motivate the pupils rather than making classes intrinsically interesting (Bower, 2011). Education needs to progress from what is easy to what is important, with schools reconnecting with the true purpose of education (Biesta, 2009).

So what do you believe is the purpose of education? Is our aim to improve student performance and raise school standards, or is it discovering that hidden curiosity in every child that can blossom in to an inherent passion for learning?

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17 responses »

  1. Having a more student centred environment for learning as your blog suggests would be ideal. However, I question your proposal of removing grades completely and replacing them by qualitative feedback. I agree that you can remove grades completely, but students will still need scores for certain subjects, grades are just labels of these scores. For example, in a maths exam there is no room for disagreement, there is a correct answer and everything else in incorrect, they also have little requirement for qualitative feedback except on the working out stage. Answers that simply require one answer and no working out are a correct/incorrect mark, there is very little else that could be said about these sorts of questions. On the other hand, exams for subjects like psychology would favour qualitative feedback, especially for longer answers, this would allow students to see where they are going wrong and areas that need improvement.

    Overall I agree that more qualitative feedback should be given to students to remove the focus from gaining a score onto what they have learnt, but I think it is impractical to remove grading/scores completely. Certain subjects there are no discussions, it is purely correct/incorrect and they allow little room for feedback, but for subject requiring longer answers qualitative feedback would be ideal.

    • Ha, ha ha – it appears that for you, and a number of other students replying to Hannah’s post that she has dared question one of your sacred relics – grades. As you can see from my reply start – I laugh.

      Go for it Hannah!

  2. I agree with Naomi, although it would be ideal to remove grades from the educational system this probably is unlikely to happen in this grade driven system. A suggestion which arose from my blog on feedback demonstrated that perhaps giving students a summative grade could be used to an advantage, particularly for student directed learning. Giving students just a grade could encourage them to self-regulate and personally reflect on their own work.Or engage in a peer feedback system, (as research has demonstrated its reliability) which will encourage students to appreciate what is required of them and gain a better understanding of the task requirement.

  3. I agree with everything that you have written. Though I feel that a transition from grades to feedback, might be a turbulent one. For some people, having a set of grades that ‘looks good’ becomes quite important to them. Removing this might cause a little bit of a dispute.
    I also don’t see why raising school standards and igniting curiosity have to be two mutually exclusive things. Fostering creativity and pride in work will inherently increase the standard of the school and the student’s work. One is simply the result of the other.
    There is another factor to also consider. It is very well removing grades, but if the work in itself is dull or menial. Then student engagement will not increase. Probably the reason why grades were introduced was to motivate students to complete uninteresting work. The point being, that the curriculum needs to be updated to correspond with changes in assessment.

  4. I definitely agree that learning and teaching should focus on the students, instead of the performance of the school as a whole. For example, many schools focus all of their attention on the high achievers, so that when they achieve the high grades, it makes the school look good to other members of the community. This therefore suggests that every member of the community, whether it is an educator, parent or government/council member, focus on the grades of the school as this is seen as the norm. Although feedback does, in theory, sound like a good alternative, I struggle to see how people would accept it – surely feedback is just as subjective as grading? If it were to be objective, the teachers would have to follow some sort-of guideline, so that every teacher was giving feedback in the same way, so surely then we will have the same problem as with grading? Feedback is a great method of fostering creativity within education, as well as intrinsic motivation and all of the aspects that are involved in creativity; however maybe there should be a balance between feedback and grading. On the other hand, a suggestion for an alternative derives from the university degree classifications (1, 2:1, 2:2, 3rd and pass/fail) – this could be incorporated into formal education, so that there is not as much variation between different students’ grades.

  5. Great blog! I agree with the main idea of no longer giving students grades, but as people in the comments above have mentioned, it maybe difficult. But! as you have mentioned, the study by Lipnevick & Smith (2008) still graded their participants but did not give some of them their grades. The participants who did not receive their grades, but received positive feedback instead gained higher intrinsic motivation. This is the direction I believe we need to go in, still grading students, but not giving them the grade. Instead give them feedback and ways to improve, then at the end of their schooling, release their grades, perhaps directly to the university without the students ever knowing. It could be argued that the student will never know the level they are at, but with feedback they can still learn to improve and reach their maximum potential to learn. Rather than knowing their grades and freaking the hell out as usual, and then working like a mad man to try and improve them, perhaps ineffectively, positive feedback may be a better alternative.

    Overall great blog, would read again, 10/10, it’s nearly Christmas wooooo

  6. I think the purpose of education is to educate 😀

    I’ve said previously that perhaps grades aren’t the best way of providing feedback to the students themselves and rather a 3:1 positive:negative ratio on their work, it would work as positive reinforcement for the good things without ignoring the negatives. I certainly agree with you that the current grading system is broken.
    The focus should indeed be what people are doing rather than how they are doing it though, if the students are in control of their learning they will learn better and the application of this knowledge is much more important than their capability to write it all down. A mechanic may be able to fix a car but it doesn’t mean he’d be able to write an essay about it.
    Education should serve as a platform for us to achieve on our own, a place where we can lay the building blocks of our career ourselves rather than simply climb the ladder that’s been provided.

    This way it’s down to us to take control and if we build well then we will do well; but poor construction will result in a collapse. The important part however is that it’s up to us, and we have control over our destination and how we get there.

    At the moment a faulty ladder is a faulty ladder, and a good ladder is a good one; we can’t change our ladder we can only climb it. Not everyone is amazing at climbing ladders in the same way that not everyone achieves their full potential in education, there’s a flaw there somewhere if not everyone is capable of success.

    I guess what I’m saying is it’s the educations role to discover everyone’s curiosity, not just children but teenagers and adults alike; you’re never too old to learn new things and certainly with developing a passion the learning process will never truly end.
    A better way of providing feedback that focuses more on what was done rather than how it was done may be a step in the right direction, but for all this I think the whole system needs changing, like you said, it needs to progress.

  7. Thanks for the comments everyone!

    Naomi, you argue that the provision of feedback wouldn’t work in some subjects where there is a right or wrong answer. However in maths and science subjects, it is quite common to gain marks for your methods and working out, not just the final ‘correct’ answer. Surely qualitative feedback which indicates whether you chose the correct method and exactly which point you made your error would help the student learn and reflect on their learning?

    I agree with several comments that the change from grades to feedback wouldn’t be easy and may cause disruption. That is why if you read my blog from last week, I suggested that grades should be ‘diluted’ first to make the change easier to implement. For example, teachers could avoid grading the students in-class, and only when deemed necessary (e.g. in exams) (Kohn, 2011). In regards to Kat’s suggestion that providing only a summative grade may encourage self-regulating, I would argue that students need qualitative information alongside the grade to reflect on where improvements are necessary (Butler, 1988). As a result, does this not make the grade itself redundant? This will be particularly true for low ability students, who may not be able to self-regulate without some direction. Low ability students can experience decreased self-esteem as a result of grades, and feedback could empower the student to become independently self-regulating, and a more effective learner as a result (Nicol & Macfarlane-Dick, 2006)

    Louise I agree with you that raising school standards and igniting curiosity shouldn’t be mutually exclusive, however with the current corrupt system based on extrinsic tangible rewards, it is likely this is what happens. School standards are currently assessed by league tables, whereas they should be assessed by the student’s engagement. Only then could improving school standards have a significant impact on student’s curiosity. You are right, the curriculum needs to be updated, and perhaps removing grading will be part of this process.

    References:
    Butler, R. (1988). Enhancing and undermining intrinsic motivation: The effects of task‐involving and ego‐involving evaluation on interest and performance. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 58(1), 1-14.
    Kohn, A. (2011). The case against grades. Educational Leadership, 69(3), 28-33.
    Nicol, D. J., & Macfarlane‐Dick, D. (2006). Formative assessment and self‐regulated learning: A model and seven principles of good feedback practice.Studies in higher education, 31(2), 199-218.

  8. Great job!
    That’s an impressive topic to me becuase sometimes I don’t really get used to the grading system. Based on my own experience, sometimes I don’t really understand why my score would be lower than others. My teachers ususally would just gave us a grade or score instead of giving us feedback. Therefore, I agree that the system of giving feedback should be implemented in school education. However, I think that it should be carried out simultaneously with grading system because sometimes grading score or grade can show the student’s level of their current learning status.
    Therefore, I think the most effective to improve grading system is not eliminate the traditional scoring system, but is to improve it. For example, when teachers are designing marking scheme, they can show the descriptive of different level of grades or scores in order to provide students a greater view of understanding. Thus, students can gain a clearer and more understandable view after they received their score. Moreover, teachers can meet with students to discuss their performance after they received their score.
    Therefore, grading system might not be enough but it virtually provide a basic criteria or result of student’s performance. I agree that giving feedback should be included in teaching modules, but it should be implemented with grading at the same time so students could gain a clearer understanding of their result.

  9. I believe that your suggestion would work to a point however there is sometimes just a right or wrong answer and creative thinking cannot be used. Take maths and statistics for example, the answer the students provide can either be correct or incorrect and at the end of the exam or test the student get a percentage and grade for how well they did. If you got rid of this process and replaced it with individual feedback I don’t believe it would work because the feedback couldn’t be very creative as the answers are not creative.

    However, I do agree with you for other subjects such as English because this is where students can display their creativity. However, what happens to the students who just do not have an creative thinking in them. Do the teachers then take time out to teach them how to be creative? Would they have to teach the whole class how to be creative or just the students who are not creative? I believe they would have to teach the whole class otherwise some students may be at an advantage over others, and if this was to take place how many lessons would they need on it, and how much learning time would it take? Also, if you taught students how to be creative are they really then begin creative or just using methods that they have been taught?

    I think that the method sounds like a good idea however many questions would need to be answered before it could be implemented. I also agree with you that the fear of failure would be reduced in students however only to a point. What if one student didn’t display a single piece of work that displayed their creative thinking throughout the year, surly their feedback isn’t going to be great? Would this make the student feel like they are failing? Or would they feel that because it isn’t graded it doesn’t really matter?

    A great idea and concept however I believe it would be extremely difficult to put into place and get the teachers, students, and parents on board with it.

  10. Really great blog! Personally, I think there are merits to grading such as keeping track of a students performance yet I believe that there is merit much more so for feedback. As mentioned in previous comments, people who are particularly high achievers may become very partial to their built up collection of A grades and they may feel that they do not need the feedback as much as those who don’t obtain such grades because they feel they are on the right track; they are getting the high grades without the feedback so why would they need it now?
    However, I do believe that feedback is very important, I for one have received essays back after the deadline with a grade but no explanation of that grade, how to improve, what I did well or where I was going wrong and it can be very frustrating. How are we supposed to improve when we don’t know where we are going wrong? Giving students a basis to work from; a basic knowledge of their abilities, what they are good at and what they are not so good at surely would be most beneficial when it comes to independent learning. Something which a simple letter cannot give.
    I feel that grading makes education into one big competition between students teachers and institutions as whole, take this away and education becomes more collaborative because there is nothing by which students can compare themselves. But as you mention and as many of the people who have commented above mention, this cannot be just applied overnight, people do not welcome change.

  11. So I’ve come to this blog from a reposting of it by Jesse on Google+. I hope you don’t mind if I make a few comments and add some thoughts into the mix.

    Interesting points, and some of them are ones I have struggled with in my official role as an educator – and by necessity a grader. It may be news to students, but teachers/educators are not always keen on giving grades. Personally I dislike students who come and ask me “How can I improve my grades” or “can you give me one or two more points here as that will get me to an A- instead of a B+”.

    I’d much rather students come and ask – “so I’m not understanding this aspect of the class, what can I do to improve my understanding?” or “this concept, I’m not sure I got it right, what does it really mean?”. Particularly for some of the more black/white types aspects of work (my course contains physics and maths, so sometimes you are just wrong) – they should want to figure out where their calculations went wrong rather then try to crib as many marks for the “working out” section as they can. (And accept that an early error can propagate throughout the rest of a question and so kill their marks even if all the rest of the calculations are correct – see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mars_Climate_Orbiter for a real world example of how getting one calculation (or unit) wrong at the start can really ruin your day). I tell my students this in every lecture and practical session I teach, yet they still want to know their grades/marks every week! Why is this?

    Partially it is a factor of the whole system. To get a good university place/PhD position/Job, you need to have good grades (at least that is the party line). Grades really are more a way for external people/institutions to gauge how well a student is progressing or learning a subject – or a proxy for determining how smart they are. There was once a time when just finishing school helped you get a job – you had some learning so you were better than someone without, next it was going to University that guaranteed you a job (as long as you graduated – whether with a first, second or even 3rd class degree). University was hard to get to and go through, and doing so meant you had gotten an education. Nowadays, with the government’s stated desire to have more than 50% of the population getting a university degree, just graduating isn’t enough. Students need some way to stand out, and employers want some way to shift their applicants as well. Grades make a good proxy for this, at least as far as employers and governments are concerned. This is often where the real pressure for grades come from, outside influences not to mention league tables and a desire to have some way to rank students from Excellent, to good, to … well you can see where this is going. Students know grades are used in this way, so to maximise their prospects they (should) want to get the best grades they can. (This is not always true. I had friends at school who were quite happy to get the worst grades in the year – they went out and worked with their hands straight after school – book smarts they figured were not for them).

    Personally I agree that grades really are not that useful for students and feedback is much better – but there is a problem there as well. Feedback is usually easier to give to weaker students – they’re the ones that need to be told where they are going wrong, where they could improve, how they could improve their understanding. Good students, who “get it” straight away – how do you give them feedback? “Well all you are doing is correct, good job.” Or “nope, nothing more you could add there, it’s pretty much perfect”. While these sort of comments are nice to get, they are not really useful to the student, and so educators can easily fall into a trap of working more with the middle students, or poor students then the good ones, which can lead to the good students becoming bored and stopping to learn.

    I don’t have a solution – if I did I would be an educational scholar or researcher instead of a neuro-physicist. I do think that one or two of the suggestions already given in the original post and in the comments could be a way forward- grades only at the end, grades not given to students as the class progresses, but kept by the educator to check on students progress, or maybe even more radically – simple pass/fail for education, and leave the stratification of students for jobs/university etc to the employers and universities after the fact. This could be achieved through entrance exams or testing in interviews like has been done in the past and still is today by some big name employers (Google for one – they have a couple of doozy maths questions in their “interview test”, and the Military for officer recruitment for another). This however will take a radical change in societies approach to, and desire for, grades.

    One thing is certain, with bright young minds like yourselves asking these questions, and posing possible solutions, I feel very encouraged for the future of education.

    • One solution that I think is worth considering for high achieving students is the encouragement of self directed learning. When considering that a student has excelled through a course and understands the information presented to them in an in depth manner, the teacher is able to promote greater confidence in the student by encouraging learning in a topic that is possibly not on the curriculum, or ahead of the rest of the class. Although this may not be graded or seen as directly beneficial to the students development in the course, there are methods of learning available for students to advance and improve their development, such as Moocs. By taking this approach towards high achieving students the focus is changed from achieving the highest grade to empowering the student, and allowing them to feel that they are able to gain expertise in a certain area. Furthermore, the extra information that they are assimilating to their current schemas will allow for an increased sense of interest in the subject, resulting in increased intrinsic motivation within the student. One other positive effect of having the student progress in non curricula topics is that it encourages desirable difficulties within the knowledge that is being gained. This will reduce the boredom as you have mentioned.
      By encouraging additional learning the stigma of grading can be removed from the students perceptions of the course, and allows them to approach post graduate courses/employers with a portfolio evidencing their initiative. I feel that the final point that needs to be mentioned here is what the responsibility of the teacher is. With the advent of the internet, knowledge can be out sourced with just the click of a mouse, however this will not replace the facilitating effect of teachers. This facilitating is the ability students have to build networks for their futures, and by teachers using their knowledge to point students in the right direction through their knowledge and experience.
      With all of this in mind, it is great to hear from lecturers outside of this module feel the same way about education.

    • Thank you for commenting on my blog, it is interesting to see a marker’s perspective of the current grading system.

      You’re right, changing societies’ opinions of grading is going to be difficult. Change is rarely welcomed, particularly in the current out-dated education system. This can be seen in students’ protests when new methods are introduced, for example the removal of lectures or introduction of self-directed learning. However as Dan suggests in the above comment, it is promising to see that other academics have similar doubts about the use of grading. Students and academics must be jointly involved in educational change for it to be effective. Using feedback in one module and grades in another would be confusing for both students regarding their progress, and for academics when determining the final degree classification. Removal of grades and using only feedback throughout education needs to be further researched, tested and implemented on a large scale to see its optimal benefits.

      We need to teach students to love their learning, not their academic performance, and I believe that removal of the grading system will allow this. Feedback does not determine the learner’s motivation like grades, it simply directs them along their progression into more intrinsic, enjoyable learning.

  12. Reblogged this on Chris James Barker and commented:
    This is a blog from one of my fellow class mates. While I didn’t read/comment on it during the assessed period, I heard good things about it so have come back to visit it.
    I see the arguments in the main post to be robust, and what is interesting is that in the comments section, about one quarter of the class come to take-on the author over her conclusions. Jesse (the class teacher) humorously describes grades as a ‘sacred relic’ that students pay a bit too much homage to. But note how so many of the class still fight in favour of grades, typically based on reasons of keeping stability/the popular vote.
    My own thoughts on grading are thus: the menace of grades is the token economy that grading has fostered. We need, even so, a way to certify what people can do, however what right have we do draw a line of dissemination separating those who can and those who can’t. The real classification needs to merely be those who can, and those who can’t YET. And, this needs to be qualitative certification. Using instead mastery learning paradigms, qualitative feedback and portfolios are a much more positive way to measure skill and capability without creating a class of sub standard graduates that inevitably make the tail end of the bell curve.

  13. Pingback: The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education (Albert Einstein) | Psychined Index

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