Learning or Achievement

What is our purpose? Our why?

Most people want to say learning. Student learning that carries on beyond the classroom. But the further you get from the student desk, the harder it is to say that, and mean it. Get far enough away from the student desk and it sometimes becomes less about learning and more about achievement. More about standardized scores, grades and averages. When you can’t see and hear and experience student learning directly, it is easy (and understandable) to look for measures to know how well our children are learning. The trouble is that these measures are limited in what they can tell you, just as they are limited in what they can tell the student.

Achievement is about the past.
Learning is about the present and future.

Students often see grades as an end point. Grades are history. Whether it’s an A or a D, a grade says “That’s it for me. All done. Nothing left to learn here.” Student learning motivated by a grade is artificial. Deep learning for a purpose is powerful. Self reflection and feedback from educators, peers, parents and the global community make learning iterative and meaningful.

If a student asks themselves, “What did I take away from that assignment/task/project/experience?” and the answer is “A 72.” then what do they do with that? However, if the answer includes statements like, “I want to learn more about….” or “I discovered that I need…” or “Now I see a connection to…” then the learning continues.

Feedback Loop Cicuit 2

So, why do we still have grades? Grades are good for measuring student achievement, streaming students and university admissions. It’s much easier to look at a data set and see how students have done over time or decide on a student’s pathway or admit students to university programs. Much easier than observing them learn and demonstrate what they can do, easier than talking to them about what they are learning and easier than looking at a portfolio of work. Are we giving grades because it is good for students or because it is easier for us? Easier for parents? Easier for universities?

What new information does a report card tell a parent who has been an active partner in their child’s learning process? Not much. In fact, that parent could likely have written the report themselves. But, we are not there yet. Generally, parents aren’t active partners. Not yet. The conditions for genuine active parent partnerships aren’t widely in place yet. People want grades because grades are all we have ever given them to let them know how our children are doing.
I am interested in seeing how #TTOG can help change that.

4 thoughts on “Learning or Achievement

  1. Reblogged this on The Epitaph and commented:
    “Grades are history” is a profound way of thinking about the difference between achievement (the past) and learning (the present and future).

    This one of those ideas I wish I had articulated myself…thanks @pmillerscdsb!

    I could not agree with you more.

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