I’ve heard too often that the assumption is little learning would happen, so this post starts with a sad state of affairs. Thankfully, the true answer is both heartening, and possible.
Marks are an imperfect reality in formal education. While feedback is a valuable part of learning, marks wield power that is disproportionate to their brevity. Their power reinforces the notion that learning is something externally imposed. Marks judge, and regularly remind too many students that they simply fall short. From the attention they get, it too frequently appears that marks have usurped learning as the reason for school.
Contrary to what might be assumed, it’s not necessarily better for those earning high marks. Understandably, these students are lulled into liking favourable judgment from others and commit themselves to this model. Both the successful and struggling alike have a relationship with marks that has little to do with the resilience, curiosity, independence and internal drive needed to be successful beyond a mark-driven world. Taking risks, like the ones needed for leadership, creativity and innovation, has no place when marks are on the line.
Outside of school, it’s very evident that children and youth will readily learn without being marked. While marks are here for the foreseeable future, there’s no reason why schools can’t make room where students learn for learning’s sake. Give them time to choose what to learn and how. In these cases, let them set the standards and expectations. Let them share this learning with others without judgment, simply to create an environment of learning for the love of it. Let them take risks. Support the process and leave it in their hands, as these are the hands that need experience if the end goal is lifelong learners. I’ve seen it work. I’ve seen what students will learn when marks aren’t involved. It takes nothing but a willingness among teachers to make some time for it, then let it grow.
To teachers looking forward to a well-deserved Christmas holiday, consider starting the new year with time for unmarked learning. It’s a risk worth taking. And no marks are on the line.
Assistant Head, Academics
You can follow Andrea on Twitter @afanjoy.