a comment on “no grading, more learning”

The following comment was posted on a compelling article called No Grading, More Learning. I don’t actually know what the etiquette is for reproducing comments, so I went ahead and copied the entire entry:

Today I Learned
Posted by Christine M. Hall, Ed.D. , Founder/Educational Consultant at CMH College Consulting on May 3, 2010 at 7:45am EDT

Dr. Arthur Shapiro, a long-time scholar and professor of Educational Leadership, currently at the University of South Florida and former professor at Peabody College of Vanderbilt University, has used a similar method in his courses for decades. As an undergraduate in his course, my first impression was that the course was a joke. We too were assigned readings and required written responses as well as conducted class discussion. Each class ended with a round table discussion where we completed the sentence, “Today I learned…” Instead of our peers grading us, we were to grade ourselves. I took advantage of the system in place and learned nothing.

A few years later, older and more mature, I went back to earn my Master’s degree. I took another course from him hoping for an easy A. To my astonishment, my brain finally kicked in and I realized that the experience was unlike anything I had ever encountered. I learned to challenge myself, challenge my peers and simply demand more from everyone around me. This was truly an opportunity to gain vast amounts of knowledge, not only from my own experiences, but from the experiences of those around me. It was, in essence, my first experience with understanding what it meant for a professor/teacher to be the facilitator of knowledge as opposed to the giver.

A former public school educator/administrator for over 22 years, I have always struggled with the inconsistency that surrounds teaching and evaluation. Too many school systems are focused on meeting standards and passing state level exams. Even more frustrating are the differences in grading scales seen across states, not to mention the differences in how grades are calculated from one teacher to another. Too many times I have asked young teachers to explain to me what it is that they want their students to learn and how will they assess that knowledge, only to be left with a blank stare, or worse, be told that they want them to pass the state test. Wouldn’t it be nice if all educators had the luxury of ending the class with a meaningful discussion focused on “Today I learned…” ?

Kudos to Duke for giving their students this opportunity.

Without diving too deep into my thoughts regarding the problems of assessment, I think this comment brings up a good point: The individual needs to find or realize his or her own way to be personally engaged. The professor in the original article may have found success with her class, but there are many more factors that contribute to creating an environment in which the burden of grading can be transferred to students.

Like education in general, there is no one-size-fits-all solution–just better fits given certain situations. I think sometimes complexities in the system are lost just because simpler alternatives seem more attractive or ideal. Yes, let’s try to get good data about what our students know. But let’s not forget that every classroom is different and that some things aren’t going to be quantifiable.

That being said, I fully admit that I don’t know what a balanced solution looks like; I just don’t think we’re always striving for one.

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