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The game of school

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By Reed Gillespie

“What do I have to do to earn an A?”
If you’re an experienced teacher, you’ve been asked the above question too many times to count. We need not look any further to provide definitive proof that our archaic grading system has failed our students.

Instead of being motivated to learn, students enter our classrooms motivated solely by grades. The good students have learned to play the game. They turn their work in on time, answer a couple of questions in class, fulfill the rubric’s requirements, and occasionally—when necessary—they complete extra credit to ensure they’ve accrued the necessary points.
The end of the marking period arrives and the student has “earned” an A. At an awards ceremony, the student receives an Honor Roll Certificate; her name is published in the school newsletter and maybe even in the local paper.  Perhaps, she even receives a certificate for a free pizza from the local pizza parlor. Her parents proudly display their “My Child is an Honor Roll Student at XYZ Middle School.” So while seemingly, everyone wins, nothing could be further from the truth.

We are teaching compliance, not learning

Our current “if-then” grading system rewards students for compliance, instead of learning. With the focus on outcomes, students will take the shortest and easiest path to the A, including cheating. Such a system takes away from the love of learning and reinforces superficial learning, instead of true understanding.
By ditching our current grading system in favor of the SE2R approach or another Standards-Based Learning system, students will take control of their learning. As Daniel Pink suggests in Drive, “increasing student autonomy promotes greater conceptual understanding, better grades, and enhanced persistence at school and in sporting activities, higher productivity, less burnout, and greater levels of psychological well-being.”
Ridding our schools of our antiquated grading system won’t be easy, but doing so will increase student learning and their love of learning.
Reed Gillespie writes about education for Brilliant or Insane. He is a longtime educator and blogger. Learn more about Reed on the Our Team page.
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Mark Barnes is the Founder and CEO of Times 10 Publications, which produces the popular Hack Learning Series -- books that provide right-now solutions for teachers and learners. Mark is the author or publisher of dozens of books, including Bestseller Hacking Education: 10 Quick Fixes for Every School. Barnes presents internationally on assessment, connected education, and Hack Learning. Join more than 115,000 interested educators who follow @markbarnes19 on Twitter.

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