I originally posted this on a Ning site that we use for classroom discussions in my Educational Psych class. Today there was an interesting discussion in the English/social studies prep room at my school. Someone brought up how grades were posted, and that most teachers posted them by student number (essentially alphabetically). One teacher though posted them that way and then highlighted in one colour those getting As, and in another colour those failing. A second teacher posts his grades sorted by grade. This lead to a discussion of the purpose of grades. Grades seem to be a motivation for students. But what we decided on was that it wasn’t just the grade, it was the competition for the grade. Competition was the motivator, not grades. I brought up that I felt it was doing a disservice to the students to assume that they can’t be intrinsically motivated. I said that in a Pass/Fail system students may start to loose their grade focus, and instead compete for doing individual assignments better than others, giving students for whom competition is the motivator more frequent chances for reward from their competition, rather than competing solely for the final grade. It’s an interesting thought about what motivates our students to do well. I think that if grades are the main motivator, then we as members of the education system have failed them. But really, think about it. What is the purpose of a grade?
Why do we give students grades? Wait, no, that’s not it. I understand why we give students grades, what I don’t understand is why we use the traditional A through F system. It seems to discourage cooperation, and provide yet another thing for students to make fun of each other over. I believe that we should go to a Pass Fail system, with a few alterations. I don’t mean that we should get rid of numerical marking. I think that many people use this correctly. Numerical marking allows students to see where they are in comparison to the standard. What I do not agree with is when it is used to see where students are in comparison to others. A pass, then, should be 60% and higher (perhaps even 70%?). This way in order to pass you must actually have achieved a level of ability that will allow the students to move to the next level of classes. Grades should be used to help students, not to label them. Provincial exam marks have taken the place of actual GPA in deciding if someone can attend a particular university, so why bother with them? Perhaps it is in fact to encourage competition. Maybe people believe that students wont work hard unless there is a grade attached? I believe that students will always find a way to compete, and that our focus on grades has simply made that the reason for competition. But in reality we’ll see how my opinion changes as I work in the schools. Maybe I’ll find the reason for grades.
I wish I was still on practicum. Part of it is that I don’t quite get the reason for being back here so soon. I was learning more, faster, while I was in the high school. I’ve come here where we now “reflect” on our experiences. Like I haven’t already done that? I’m a Theatre student; reflect is one of our major modes. So instead of learning how to write a unit plan, or improving on our teaching style, we’re sitting in desks trying to pay attention to information that is either useless, already known, or easily accessible. Regardless it does seem like a waste of time. But more than that, I have another reason for not liking being back at UBC.
It’s lonely. There are tens of thousands of people here, but no one talks. I know maybe 100 people here. Actually talk to maybe 40, and spend time with less than 20. At the high school there may have been less than 40 teachers, but I knew a large number of them. They talked. They interacted. They were real. Not always trying to seem to be a perfect teacher, lest someone notice that they have doubts. I love teaching, but I have problems with the program. I don’t like how they tell us to do one thing, but model something else. How they tell us that people will react to your expectations, and then treat us like elementary school students. How they tell us to access prior knowledge in our students, and then tell us that our prior knowledge is wrong. Why are we jumping through their hoops to join a profession that is completely different from what they are portraying?
Maybe it’s the area? Maybe surrey is just a more accepting and open area than UBC? Could it be because of the large number of people on campus that no one talks? I miss UCFV, I miss everyone talking. I miss not having an oppressive silence on the buses. The feeling that I’d be breaking some social norm to talk to someone I don’t know and who may not be in my program.