I completed my CFE experience at West Point Grey Academy (WPGA), one of Vancouver’s independent schools. During my time at WPGA, I was able to observe an elective “not-for-grades” robotics course. After watching students enthusiastically engage with the course material in the absence of marks as an extrinsic motivator, I realized that I no longer knew the value of grades-based assessments.
Throughout the first half of my teacher education program at UBC, I heard several different perspectives on the importance of summative assessments in education; including the use of various grades-free educational models. Perhaps because I grew up with summative assessments as an integral part of my educational experience, I found it very hard to believe that any grades-free alternative could prove as fruitful as the traditional system with which I was familiar. After all, intrinsically motivated students will always push themselves to succeed but without the threat of failure, what will drive apathetic students to participate in their classes?
Watching a class that did not rely on marks as the key motivator made me appreciate that grades could actually act as a barrier to learning. In this robotics course, students worked through projects, guided by set checkpoints that they could meet using any number of creative solutions. Because no single answer to any problem existed and the students were not awarded more points for solving a problem the “correct” way, they seemed more willing to try out different strategies. This increased their programming and robotics knowledge, while concurrently building their transferrable skills, such as problem solving and project management. All of the learning that occurred in this class took place without the teacher assigning a single grade.
This realisation that I could effectively engage all of my students without having to constantly assign a points value to their assignments made me consider how I could use grades-free strategies in my classes? I believe that in answering this question I will be forced to thoughtfully develop more creative lessons that tap into students’ personal interests.