> Mrs. O'Neill's Blog: July 2008

Thursday, July 24, 2008

She's back. And this time she's serious.

Back to school for a second year of the American education system.

US schools like to use the grade point system to give their students an idea of how they are doing. Being concerned about their grade gives some focus to pupils. They can't just coast along hoping to do well in final exams. The athletes for example, need to have done their homework in other subjects if they are to attend training. To me that can potentially teach a good lesson on the importance of having an all round education. But the downside of all this is the focus on summative assessment. So much of what they do is graded, so students become obsessed with their grade. They are always asking what it is, and worrying over it. Sounds good? Well you'd think so. Just to make any impact on kids is great! (even if they become neurotic in the process…) But all the grading seems to be based on an idea about how learning works which just isn't right.

The grade system assumes learning is cumulative and ordered. A chart of a students progress over a year should look like a gradual gradient which settles into a nice plateau (hopefully on a A?). In reality we don't learn like that. Learning is messy. Sometimes the grade reflects that -a big drop one week whilst certain techniques are being mastered, or a high grade when a teacher tests students about what they already know. It affects my teaching too because I feel pressure to provide more 'quizzes' and tests, or resort to the horrible multiple choice tests. Grappling with that issue has been the biggest challenge of my teaching in the USA.