Grades aren’t really important at our house.
I know. It seems sacrilegious in the competitiveness of today’s age, but I don’t care. To me, a grade is a subjective measurement of what one person thinks is important in a class and may not measure what a student has learned at all. I say this to my kids’ teachers, much to their chagrin.
Does this encourage underachievement in our kids? No, it focuses them on the process of learning instead of the grading of an outcome.
It seems so much focus is put on the outcome, the grade, that kids cannot even enjoy learning anymore. It’s not enjoyable because even if they like the subject and look forward to discovering new things in that subject, someone else comes and measures what they don’t know. Then, if the grade is poor, all of the enjoyment of the subject is sucked out simply because of a GPA and a mythical “permanent record” that either allows them to go to college and lead the good life or makes them do some hideous job they hate while making too little to support themselves.
In fact, grade point average is a poor predictor of success in life. Stanford University researchers find attitude in handling challenges, setbacks, and failures is a much better predictor.
Researchers discovered that people fall into two types of mindsets: growth and fixed. People with a fixed mindset tend to avoid failure because they believe they are who they are and cannot change. They were born the way they will always be. Individuals with a growth mindset see failure as another way to learn something, a way to problem solve. Grades tell kids that there is only one way to learn or look at something and that is the same way as the test writer. In our house, we believe in critical thinking and believe different kids learn in different ways. A grade, therefore, can be the downfall of a child’s confidence in approaching a subject or problem and create issues for years to come. So, we take grades with a grain of salt.
Hey, we don’t tolerate slackers or laziness. Before we get excited about a grade, we look at the effort put in. We look at the ability and interest of our kid in the subject. We ask our kid to tell us about the class to see whether she simply memorized and regurgitated or if she actually learned and can apply the theory or knowledge.
We don’t want grades to discourage our kids from exploring things with their minds. Grades should not be the desired outcome or reward otherwise where is the incentive to continue to learn outside of class throughout life. We want kids who problem solve and critically think and research a topic somewhere other than Wikipedia.
David Kolb, an American educational theorist, studied learning extensively and writes that there are four types of learning styles. Four. Are all schools using all four to teach? No? Then why are the kids who learn in one of the other three ways considered “slow” or worse?
Even more interesting to me as a parent, is the theory of multiple intelligence by another Harvard based doctor. Dr. Howard Gardner suggests that the traditional understanding of intelligence is too limited. He finds that people, and our kids, can be:
- Linguistic intelligence (“word smart”)
- Logical-mathematical intelligence (“number/reasoning smart”)
- Spatial intelligence (“picture smart”)
- Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence (“body smart”)
- Musical intelligence (“music smart”)
- Interpersonal intelligence (“people smart”)
- Intrapersonal intelligence (“self smart”)
- Naturalist intelligence (“nature smart”)
He even writes that moral or existential intelligence could be included. Yet, our schools only give weight to words and numbers. Look, I get it. There is pressure on teachers to measure and these types of smart are easiest to measure. I understand there is huge pressure to “test” everything. But at the end of the day, is a test of only two types of smart that are taught in a way that only 25% of learners can learn easily really a good measurement of what our kids are achieving?
As for me, I want to appreciate my whole child. Her ability to be kind to others, to play her violin or a sport, her ability to see something differently and critically think. So, I use my own theory of multiple measurements looking at my child’s ability, interest, effort, enthusiasm, and a host of other things when I interpret that grade on a test or assignment.
She will not be defined by a red mark on a piece of paper.