As I reflect on my time as a student both in K-12 and college, I’m struck at how pervasive this mindset was for me. I often obsessed more about the grade than the learning. There were moments I choose not to take an academic risk because it didn’t fit the rubric. I think about what I may have lost in the pursuit of a GPA.
Now being an educator, I’m faced with the dilemma that grades don’t truly encapsulate the complete learning process. It evaluates a product of learning, which in of itself is not bad, but it becomes problematic when the student feels there is only “one” proper product of their learning. True, there are historical dates, scientific laws, and certain mathematical problems that do have only one correct answer and there is a place for teaching and learning these concepts for foundational knowledge. Yet, education is filled with many more topics and problems that do not have such a linear answer or end product. In life outside the school walls, this holds true, where there are almost no clear answers to the daunting issues facing our world.
The danger now is the expectation that once I have submitted “this proper product” I must receive the grade I desire or that now I will increase my earning power. Culture has created the expectation that we must receive immediate tangible results for the effort we put forth. This transactional paradigm towards education leaves many without an understanding that learning is a continual process that does not end with the submission of a project or the entering of the grade. How can we begin chipping away at this deeply entrenched paradigm? Below is a phrase from Mark Reardon, a learning facilitator trainer: