Many homeschooling parents follow the school system and grade their children’s work. Perhaps they think it will make their kids accountable, motivate them to improve, or get them ready for public exams later down the line.
But many research studies have been carried out on the effectiveness of giving children grades. Their results show that far from encouraging kids, they may be doing the opposite.
1. Grades decrease learning enjoyment
Studies show that when children are focused on getting a good grade, they engage less deeply in what they are doing. Even really fun projects are less enjoyable when the prospect of being graded hangs over the student.
Grades tell children that extrinsic rewards are more important than the intrinsic value of learning itself.
Over the course of their childhoods, kids internalise this message – until finally they’re ready to take their places among the overpopulated ranks of deeply unfulfilled adults in “successful” careers.
2. Graded students choose the easiest assignments
When grades are given, the implicit message is that they are more important than learning.
When children are told that grades will be awarded for their work, and are then given a choice between an easy task and a more challenging one, almost all will take the easier option. Why choose the opportunity to learn new skills over the chance to “be successful”, when the grade is what counts?
In contrast, when there is no prospect of the task being graded, children will often choose the project they can learn most from, even if it is the most difficult.
3. Grades discourage deep and critical thinking
Children who know their work is being graded will inevitably focus on getting inside the grader’s head as they carry out the task, instead of bringing their own valuable, unique perspective to what they are learning. Why waste time engaging with material on their own terms when what counts is what the teacher/examiner looking for?
Books are skimmed and memory techniques are employed as students take the shortest possible route towards the highest grade. Thinking is shallow and superficial – not deep, critical or lateral.
What’s the point in taking time to explore the connections between the current topic and what was learned last month, when your efforts won’t be rewarded in the all-important grade?
4. Grades encourage a fixed mindset
In Mindset: How You Can Fulfil Your Potential, Carol Dweck describes two very different mindsets.
People with a fixed mindset believe that talents and abilities are set and cannot be changed by effort. Failure is a sign of not being good enough.
On the other hand, people with a growth mindset believe that effort and practise help them improve. Mistakes are a natural part of learning – an opportunity to grow.
Dweck gives dozens of examples in Mindset of how a growth mindset contributes to happier, more successful living.
What’s mindset got to do with grades? Giving grades for achievement, good or bad, contributes to a fixed mindset. People tend to use grades to label themselves. Good grades mean students are less likely to opt for challenging learning adventures in the future – why risk slipping off the pedestal? And if you get a bad grade, it means you’re no good – so what’s the point in trying?
The good news is that mindsets can be changed – my kids have already begun to change theirs just by listening to parts of the book (which I highly recommend for all home-educating mums).
As for grades – if they must be given, much better that they be awarded for effort. (Though can anyone other than the student really know how much effort went into a piece of work?)
Better still, instead of a letter to label themselves with, offer respectful, authentic feedback that helps kids along their learning journeys.
For more views on giving kids grades from experienced homeschooling mums, head over to:
Highhill Homeschool – Grades not required
Barefoot Hippie Chick – Passing grade
Every Bed of Roses – To grade or not to grade
One Magnificent Obsession – School without grades or tests?
I’m appreciatively linking up here: