Friday, January 28, 2011

Grading in primary grades: More harm than good?

This is a post that I have wanted to write for a long time. It is my ramblings about the ramifications of grades in the primary grades.

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I have the sneaky hypothesis that grading in the primary grades does more harm than good. Before, you think I am crazy, hear me out. I think that grades have a funny way of telling youngsters that they have unequal potentials.  It would be interesting to ask a second, third, or fourth grader about what goes into grades. I think their response would be that the smartest kids get  “A’s” and the least intelligent get the “bad grades”. Thus, students in the earliest stages of their academic careers pigeonhole themselves into a certain category—"smart", "average" or "dumb". He or she believes that they are naturally inferior or superior to their classmates. This is especially disheartening because schooling (as it is now constructed) measures such a small portion of a child’s intelligence and capabilities. And don’t tell me that it is a indicator of hard work and effort, because in the primary grades I have a hard time believing that certain students are lazy or can really “out work” another student.  Grades from an early age tell children that learning is about competition, not cooperation and creativity. As a student progresses through their schooling career, I think they carry the weight of their early scores.  And with that weight their constructed capabilities. I really think grades early in a child’s career carry psychological effects that must be studied.

So what’s the alternative? Teachers in the early grades work with students on formative assessments and foster a love of learning that they carry with them.  They learn their multiplication tables not because they need to get good marks, but so that they can explore the world of numbers. They don’t learn how to read in order to best their peer in hopes of a reading award, but rather to nurture a natural inquisitive viewpoint of the world. Am I saying that grades need to be abolished or this is something that can be changed right away? Of course not. But we can lessen the culture of competition in schools, especially the younger grades. 

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