Unfortunately many students today still believe that learning is related only to marks. Despite efforts for reform, students still ask when their ‘test’ will be, or how many marks it will be worth. And further, when a test is handed back, a calculator is the first thing that is pulled out to work out the percent achieved. How did our education system get to this point where the most important thing that matters is the letter grade? Is it because of the widespread use of standardized tests, or because our school system issues reports that consist of only a letter grade and generic choose-from-a-list comment per course (in secondary anyways)? Is it because post-secondary education institutions use GPA’s to determine entrance through their doors? Or is it that the current mode of reporting marks the easiest way to keep data for the sheer number of students that attend our schools? With all that said, it may be a bit too much of a shock to the system to completely revamp the assessment overnight. With any movement towards change, I like small steps, but significant ones.
No matter how we got to this state in our education system, it has unfortunately led our students to believe learning and scoring are the ‘be all and end all’. The other unfortunate part is that those students who don’t ‘score’ well are often held in a certain regard, such as being slow or underachieving, by their peers, by themselves, by some teachers, and even by their own parents.
If I go back to my karate days, I still remember people asking what colour my belt was. I draw a parallel to kids asking each other what they got on their test. I’m not sure how many people really know this but in the old days, there was no such thing as belt colours. Everyone in old Japan who did karate was given a WHITE belt when they started. It was after time and growth that one’s uniform would be replaced but not the belt. The belt was one piece of the uniform that was of sentimental value. As the belt got older, it naturally turned darker (towards black). However, as the belt gets old and worn out, it turns white again because only threads are left. If one were lucky enough to get to this point, one would have truly been a lifelong learner.
It wasn’t until karate was adopted by the Japanese school system that ‘colours’ were introduced. The colours were supposed to represent growth within the martial art and a way to show the rate of growth in students. Is that what we do today in our school by separating students in to grade levels and having them write standardized tests (even though we all know they learn and grow at unique rates)? My point is that those who practiced karate in the old days, and made it a “lifetime study,” really did learn to better themselves both mentally, physically and emotionally. There were no grades, marks, or belt tests like there are today.
It is almost as if our education system is in a slump where the value of learning is really far from, well, learning. However through all the tweets and eduBlogs, there is a ton of hope out there as I see my colleagues having conversations to better the true meaning of learning. I have done a number of lessons on learning with my students in grade 8 Science class. It is a follow up on one of my eduResolutions for the year, which is to distinguish between building a knowledge base and life learning. After having grade 8 students discuss this with their peers over several classes, here is what one of them wrote on our class’ www.twiducate.com account:
Knowledge base and life learning are different. Knowledge base is where you learn information in school and talk and work scientifically. It’s where you learn by reading textbooks or having the teacher explain. But life learning is where you take the information you learned in science and you actually use it in your life. It’s where you actually understand and experience the science happening around or inside you.
From all the responses that my students submitted, not one of them made any reference to scoring on a test or quiz, or about a letter grade. None. Our students are thirsty to learn for the right reasons, for life learning purposes and to take their learning into the world outside of the walls of our schools. It will still take a lot of effort to get them out of the educational culture that their generation, and their parents’ generation, has been exposed to for such a long time, but the potential for reform is there. It is worth the effort even though at times I feel it is an uphill battle. Nonetheless, I am optimistic that if we can facilitate the right conversations among our students and their parents, we can promote movement in our education system more towards the WHITE belt for life scenario!