Done with Grades

May 29, 2018

Source: The Jewish Week 

It’s the season. I’ve just finished marking papers and submitting grades. I gave them all A’s for the semester. You’re thinking, “Easy grader.” I’m thinking: “I actually care about learning.” My students all worked hard, showed seriousness of purpose and mastery of what they read. I want them to feel good about what they learned, take it with them and feel confident about themselves as future teachers. When you give grades, you hold immense power over people. Every grade you give is a label you force students to wear that tells them what you think of them, regardless of what you actually think of them.

And here’s a big secret that’s no secret at all: Nothing gets in the way of learning more than grades.

I didn’t say it first. Read Alfie Kohn’s “Feel-Bad Education” or his challenge — to go from degrading to de-grading in schools. You can be a member of the No-Grades Movement or join the thousands in the Teachers Throwing Out Grades Facebook group who believe that observation, feedback, iteration and student self-evaluation will make real learners out of students. Grades won’t. You might read about the 40-plus schools in New York City that have moved to mastery-based learning. Better yet, you might sign your kid up.

Yes, I am passionate about this subject, nowhere more than in Jewish studies in Jewish day schools. You’ll argue that if we don’t give kids grades, they won’t take their classes seriously. I argue that most kids aren’t taking bad teaching seriously anyway. They’re just throwing away a love of subject to something more worthy, where they feel good about themselves. A Talmud teacher confessed to me that he had an excellent student but gave him a B-plus because he often came late to class. Not surprisingly, that student disengaged from Talmud study altogether. He saw his teacher as a person with the wrong priorities. Think about it. Most of us can’t remember what we learned years ago. We remember feelings about certain teachers that got transmitted to the subjects they taught. Associations linger.

Some schools, dare I say it, give grades in prayer. Imagine the judgment. Tender spirituality is squashed. Sure, it’s hard to get kids quiet, but consider the long-term soul-damage. It’s simply irreparable. Do you think God gives us grades? You cannot have a warm, loving, intimate relationship with a God who gives grades. Even if you’re an A student.

There will come a day when a few courageous Jewish day schools have the vision to take a bold step out of an outmoded system and do what Jews have done for millennia: study for its own sake. You brave few will make life-long learners out of your students. You will foster curiosity and love. You will nurture engagement and intellect. You will grow the soul. You will show the rest of us the way.

Read the entire post at The Jewish Week

Updated: May. 30, 2018