There is much talk of how schools need to change from the sit and get method of teaching, to encouraging students to think for themselves. What a wonderful concept, in theory.
Too often, students come with the attitude of tell what I need to know, tell me how you want me to give it back to you, and I will reproduce your thoughts on paper, and BINGO, I win my 'A'. They are programmed to spew back facts and ideas fed to them without actually creating or investigating on their own.
When given a problem to solve, students stare blankly at the paper, afraid or unable to attempt to think for themselves. They want THE ANSWER. They don't like the thought that there might not be a right answer.
How have we programmed them this way or did they come to school with that mentality?
And now... how do we reprogram them to want to think for themselves?
I think one of the best ways to improve education and promote independent thinking is to do away with our current system of grading students. Students and parents are motivated by the almighty 'A' with little regard for what the 'A' actually means in terms of student achievement and learning progress. Other students seem so intimidated by grades they almost refuse to try, so certain they will never achieve that illusive 'A' they simply quit before they try, like taking the 0 for doing nothing is better than accepting a 'C' for working hard but not making the ultimate 'A' mark.
Teachers often feel pressure to give high grades so parents aren't complaining. Students also put their fair share of grade pressure on teachers. Participation in sports is often dependent on grades. But each teacher 'grades' their own way. Some give extra credit to boost scores. Some weight homework heavily, others rely on summative assessments for their primary source of reporting grades. Some give participation grades; others base grades solely on achieving mastery of the content. Some teacher allow retakes; others do not. Some average retake scores with the original; some let the higher score stand. Grades often mean nothing comparatively from course to course, teacher to teacher, school to school.
Without grades, school could actually be about learning, experiencing, and growing, instead of the letter that gets published on the report card. Students would not be intimidated by the threat of failure or not measuring up. Teachers could design lessons to spark enthusiasm and encourage risk taking instead of ones that are easily assessed on a 4 point scale. Students would move onto more difficult material when they were ready not when they sat their 9 months in a class, earned their percentage and were rotely moved along the conveyor belt of school. Learning would be fluid and flexible.
Would it work? Who knows.... but they way we are doing things now certainly isn't meeting the needs of all learners, or even preparing a vast percentage of students for college or life beyond high school. Perhaps it is time for something new!