Thursday, February 18, 2016

"You don't give grades?! How do you know they have learned anything?"

That was the response I received recently from an incredulous store employee when I stated that I do not do report cards or grades for my children. Sometimes I forget that this can be a novel and somewhat controversial topic; having felt not just comfortable, but passionate about this issue for years now, I tend to be taken off-guard by reactions such as this.

Lately, I have been rereading some articles by one of my favorite education experts, Alfie Kohn. The article, From Degrading to De-Grading, written for High School Magazine in 1999 is available on his website. He lists nine well-researched and documented reasons to “just say no to grades”. The article gives detailed descriptions for each reason, and I encourage everyone reading this to go check it out! 

     1. Grades tend to reduce students' interest in the learning itself.
     2. Grades tend to reduce students' preference for challenging tasks.
     3. Grades tend to reduce the quality of students' thinking.
     4. Grades aren't valid, reliable, or objective.
     5. Grades distort the curriculum.
     6. Grades waste a lot of time that could be spent on learning.
     7. Grades encourage cheating.
     8. Grades spoil teachers' relationships with students.
     9. Grades spoil students' relationships with each other.

You might be still be asking, “If you don’t do grades, how do you know students have learned anything?!” I will address how Bella Natura handles grades in a moment. First, allow me to volley a question back over the net. “How do you know that a baby has learned to walk?” In the absence of grades, how does a parent determine that a child has mastered walking, talking, and potty training? I am fairly confident that most parents would think it is ridiculous to assign a letter grade to their child’s efforts at learning these skills. You see the fruit of their learning—the child walks and speaks!

Bella Natura does not issue traditional report cards to Kindergarten and Elementary students. Instead, we extend the Reggio concept of documentation into a variety of authentic assessments. We give detailed, specific feedback (orally and spontaneously, as well as written) to our students. We help them to assemble portfolios, projects, and self-assessments that document their own individual learning journey. It’s more about encouraging true learning and mastery over the successful completion of externally-applied learning objectives. Here at Bella Natura, parents will not just see a “snapshot” of what a child knows at a specific point in time, rather they are invited to obtain more of an “all-access, backstage pass” to the process and the fruit of their child’s learning.