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A day without grades

October 24, 2010
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Scene: a typical classroom at my school. Teacher in front of classroom handing out papers. Grades reported as fractions 77/84, etc. Students pulling out calculators—calculating decimals. Looks of elation and deflation wash over their faces.

Student 1: What’d you get?
Student 2: 75. I’m bummed, I almost had an A.
Student 1: well, It’s better than me, I got a 61. Mr Smith hates me.
Student 2: He never gives anyone an A.

And on and on. You’ve heard this conversation before, too many times to count. It would be like working at an office where all people do is talk about salaries.

My hypothesis is that all this chatter about grades, P/SAT scores, college admissions and other shallow measures of success makes school more stressful and less intellectual, and it’s one of the things that students are almost entirely in control of, unlike the homework policies, the daily schedule or the calculation of grades.

If it is true that “grade chatter” has a negative effect on student stress and success, why do students do it? My guess is that grades have become a standard “how’s the weather?” surface level of banter that is acceptable to chat about when you really don’t want to talk about anything serious. This is also true for parents, who are willing to talk in detail about their child’s college process with another parent to avoid really building a connection with another parent.

So what is to be done? I’m working on finding some research to support my thesis (I’ve got a few leads). I’m also thinking of talking to students about creating a “Don’t talk about grades day.” Students would be encouraged by each other to sign a pledge like the following

I am interested in making my school a less stressful and more intellectual place. Because idle chatter about grades adds to stress and detracts from learning, I’ve decided that I will not talk about grades at all on this day, in hopes that this can be a positive step in the right direction.

Ok, so the wording needs some work. But I think this could raise awareness and make a difference. I’ve also decided to start calling out my students, in private, when I think they are increasing the stress and anti-intellectual nature of the school by talking about grades.

What do you think? Could this work?

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