The case against grades

This is not my title I have stolen it from Alfie Kohn a long time promoter of the negative impacts that grades have on student learning. It is the title of the article that I am suggesting you should read if you have any interest in this topic.

The purpose of putting this article out there is not to suggest we should no longer use grades but to broaden our knowledge and understanding of what research says about such a deeply embedded policy in our educational system. By doing this we have a broader base of knowledge to then approach the issue in our own classrooms and at a whole site level.

Among other things the article covers the following:

  • Grades tend to diminish students’ interest in whatever they’re learning.
  • Grades create a preference for the easiest possible task.
  • Grades tend to reduce the quality of students’ thinking.

The following information (a quote from the article) was reinforced to us by Dylan Wiliam in week 2 this term.

“It’s not enough to add narrative reports.  “When comments and grades coexist, the comments are written to justify the grade” (Wilson, 2009, p. 60).  Teachers report that students, for their part, often just turn to the grade and ignore the comment, but “when there’s only a comment, they read it,” says high school English teacher Jim Drier.  Moreover, research suggests that the harmful impact of grades on creativity is no less (and possibly even more) potent when a narrative accompanies them.  Narratives are helpful only in the absence of grades (Butler, 1988; Pulfrey et al., 2011).”

To access the full article click here. The link can also be found on the Pedagogy page of this blog under Domain 2: Create safe learning conditions for rigorous learning.

What do you think about rewards in the classroom?

Thank you to Chris Wejr (@chriswejr) who posted a link to his blog post 14 Videos for Starting Dialogue on Rethinking Rewards, Awards on Twitter which gave me the idea of posting a couple of those videos here to challenge thinking about rewards in the classroom.

I certainly have used rewards in the past but rarely if ever do I use them now. This is not so much because of a deep seated philosophy that I have about using rewards in the classroom but more about my indifference to the whole issue itself, having never had a strong opinion either way. Obviously I use grades to report student achievement which can be considered a form of reward. Students rarely see a grade as a useful piece of feedback designed to help them improve, rather it is viewed more as an end result (a reward) than a stepping stone to improvement.

Someone who does have a strong opinion about rewards, including the use of grades is Alfie Kohn. Below is a grab from Alfie Kohn’s blog which can be visited by clicking here.

Alfie Kohn writes and speaks widely on human behavior, education, and parenting. The author of twelve books and scores of articles, he lectures at education conferences and universities as well as to parent groups and corporations.
Kohn’s criticisms of competition and rewards have been widely discussed and debated, and he has been described in Time magazine as “perhaps this country’s most outspoken critic of education’s fixation on grades [and] test scores.”

The first video is a excerpt of Alfie Kohn  speaking about the impact of rewards (including grades). The second video is a clip from The Office (American version) which highlights what happens when an employee is not interested in the external rewards being offered by the employer (very funny). Is this what happens in our classrooms when students disengage because they have no interest in the external rewards in our classrooms (including grades)? If students do not engage because of the traditional rewards offered to them the question is how do we engage them? What motivates these students to want to achieve?


I would be really interested in hearing about what philosophies teachers had regarding rewards and the importance (or not) of grades towards learning.

Grades – do they define a child?

Love the reactions (many and varied) in this video of students recieving their grades. Our system requires grades (for better or worse – depending on your view). From personal experience it is hard to shift a student from believing they are a ‘C’ student to believing they can be a ‘B’ student. Are there better ways to feedback to students how they have gone?