Week 2 Reading: Rethinking Letter Grades & Becoming a Contributor

Rethinking Letter Grades

This week we read the first four chapters in Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander’s The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life. This really got me thinking about letter grades and the pressure that it puts on students.

I teach 4th grade to 32 students who start the school year full of excitement, wonder, potential, and possibilities. Throughout the school year, while I know that they still all have those characteristics inside of them, that same spark and fire gradually fades in students who see themselves not meeting up to the standards that we measure them up against. As much as I try my best to encourage them, some of them get so used to seeing bad grades that they stop working up to their potential and stop trying so that they don’t disappoint themselves. Why try and fail when you can not try and get the same results?

What could I do to take the pressure off of these 4th graders? Would it be realistic to tell 4th graders that they all get an A in my class if they show up, do the work, and then write me a reflection about everything that they learned? I can imagine complaints from other teachers at my school and the numerous amount of complaints that I would get from parents. Maybe taking grades away completely isn’t the solution, but there has to be a better option for these students.

As my school begins to align our standards with Common Core, we are now moving into a 4 point rubric, and our students won’t even see letter grades on their report card this year. Our upper grade teachers, myself included, are so used to putting percentages and letter grades on everything. As a result, students see those letter grades on all of their papers, tests, and progress reports, however they will not see any of that on their actual report card. Would writing a score of a 1, 2, 3, or 4 on a paper make a difference, or would it be the same as writing a letter grade? I plan on testing this out for our next trimester so that I can see for myself if it makes a difference.

Becoming a Contributor

If you’ve never heard the words of wisdom from a young Steve Jobs, I recommend that you watch the short YouTube videos Steve Jobs: Secrets of Life and Steve Jobs on Failure. In the first video he talks about how we all have the ability to change and influence this thing that we called life. The video on failures talks about the difference between doers and dreamers, which relates perfectly to Zander and Zander’s chapter about being a contributor. Steve Jobs was definitely a contributor who definitely left his mark in this world. I’ve always been a dreamer, but Steve Jobs and this EMDT program have inspired me to become a doer, a contributor in this world.


8 thoughts on “Week 2 Reading: Rethinking Letter Grades & Becoming a Contributor

  1. “Why try and fail when you can not try and get the same results?”

    That is exactly what our students think, Gena. They get so tired of failing and disappointing others and themselves. The standardized test scores beat their self confidence and after they keep seeing the “bad” scores, I think they eventually give up, even if we encourage them. They don’t believe it anymore. I am sad to see the love of learning slowly fade and the fire leaves their eyes.
    I agree that getting rid of grades isn’t the solution, “but there has to be a better option for these students.” How can we assure that our students not only achieve success in school, but also become life long learners and have a passion for knowledge?

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  4. I share your same sentiment about grades. You know I feel about them. I honestly think that the over emphasis on grades is just a symptom of a bigger problem. The modern educational machine is broken. Instead of trying to revamp it and make it work again, legislatures and states just keep throwing money at it, hoping it will get better. Honestly, that isn’t even true. They are actually taking money from it and expecting it to get better.

    We need to step back and remember what the whole point of education is. Is it so that a student can get into a good college, which eventually could lead to a good job? And what is the definition of a good job? One that pays a ton of money and has great benefits and paid vacations? Forget about loving what you do or enjoying what you do, the emphasis is on monetary gain. The whole point of education is so that a person can grow to enjoy their life and be a contributing member to their community and society. When did it become about anything else? My grandmother was the smartest person I knew. She could fix anything, grow anything, and cook anything. She was funny and was always laughing or had a smile on her face. She went to a one-room schoolhouse in the foothills of Kentucky until she was in 8th grade. She was needed to work the fields at home and support her family, so she quit school. She could hardly read or write, but she lived the most fulfilling life I’ve ever seen. If she had taken a 3rd grade standardized test, I’m sure she would have failed miserably. But I never judged how much she was worth based on a useless number score. This modern educational system is doing nothing to prepare students for a fulfilling and contributing life. It’s all about numbers and money.

    I do think that 1,2,3,4 would still cause a letter grade mentality. Just give it time. Any sort of grading system will eventually turn into that mentality. It is just human nature. I honestly don’t have a quick fix for this. But give me some time, and I’ll let you know what I come up with.

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  6. thanks for sharing the parts of the reading that stood out the most to you. Third and fourth grades are such fundamental years when students really begin to decide what kind of person and what kind of student they are. They come in so willing to please and the process so crushes that enthusiasm for most of them. I’m glad that the reading challenged you to re-think what this means and how to help them through these changes that are put upon them.

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