We hear people say, “I’m just not the creative type” all the time. Probably all of us have said it at one time or another, unless you actually happen to be incredibly creative. But, this phrase creates a barrier to learning, especially at an early age. Being creative, or rather the act of creating, forces you to ask questions and think critically. In many ways, this has become a lost art in standard educational practices. This portion of Eric Liu and Scott Noppe-Brandon short book, Imagination First, resonated with me because while reading, I made the connection that imagination, creativity, and assessment are all interrelated concepts. Everyone has an innate sense of creativity, it just needs to be cultivated in different ways. Designing more creative ways of assessing students, as Alfie John suggests in The Case Against Grades, could give students the motivation to be curious learners and use their imagination more.
I grew up with very rudimentary methods of assessment used between elementary school and college. The standard A-B or 100% scales. And, admittedly, I fell subject to being one of those students who simply worked for a high grade, either through rote memorization or easy assignments that were guaranteed to be easy-A’s. In my senior year of high school, I took a college-level writing course for college credit. Our teacher gave us a detailed rubric for every writing piece that year. Which, in turn, led to mediocre pieces of writing that fit the bill of the rubric, but lacked any substance. In fact, I can’t even recall a single paper I wrote in that class, just the rubrics. Looking back, I’m angry at myself for not taking more advantage of the opportunities I had in such classes.
But, however much I regret focusing too much on numerical or alphabetical grades, that is how you have to play the game when you are a student. You have to live up to certain expectations to receive x-grade that you want, and if you receive the proper x-grades, you’ll get into a prestigious college. If you receive exceptional x-grades in colleges, you’ll get a job after graduation or even get admitted into graduate school. It’s just the game that students now learn.
But, as Kohn’s narrative suggests, there are many alternatives to standard assessment methods. This is an exciting concept for me, especially since I have had little exposure to such methods in my own schooling, and I have yet to teach myself. I really enjoyed reading the concept of collectively arriving at a grade between a teacher and student, and was pleasantly surprised to hear that most students pick the same grade the teacher would have given them otherwise. This creates a more democratic system within the classroom. It also leads us to the question of the quality of teachers– It would take a lot more time and effort for a teacher to sit down with every student to review a quarter/semester, especially when many teachers probably are overloaded as is. But, I hypothesize that if a teacher truly wanted to make a difference in the lives of his/her students, they would be more than willing to spend that extra time. At least in a perfect world.
These readings made me interested to learn more about grade-less education systems. However, after a quick Google search, I found a Wikipedia page (yes, I know, Wikipedia…) that listed the grading systems by country: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grading_systems_by_country
I didn’t see a single one that doesn’t use some type of numerical formatting (though I quickly skimmed through it so possibly missed something). Food for thought… what if an entire country became grade-less? Wouldn’t that be something…