Grading Elementary Level Work Part 2

In the previous blog, we began looking at how to grade, or evaluate, the work of elementary level students. The idea was put forth that giving letter grades is counter-productive to mastery learning and an obstacle to instilling a love of learning.

To illustrate this point further, consider a cook preparing a special meal.  She plans the menu and searches for just the right recipes.  She purchases the freshest ingredients, then makes each dish with care.  She sets the table with her finest china, and serves the food in her best dishes.  As the meal is being consumed, what does the cook crave to hear? 

            "This meat is the most tender I've ever eaten."

            "How did you get these potatoes to be so fluffy?"

            "May I have more asparagus?"

Her sense of accomplishment will not be satisfied if the diners eat what is on their plates, then scoot back and say, "We give this meal a B+."  A "B+" is a respectable grade, but by itself it is worthless.  On the other hand, an honest evaluation is priceless and gives the cook specific direction as to what worked and what didn't.  (The meat was tender, the potatoes fluffy, but the pie crust was too dry.)

It isn't the B+ that will motivate our chef to improve her cooking skills; it is the combination of praise for what was done well, and suggestions on how to do better that will spur her to prepare another special meal.  The cook will not care about the next meal if this one doesn't have a moment of glory.

So what is the alternative to giving a letter grade?  You already know.

As a home-schooling mom, you are involved in your child's learning process.  You know whether or not the material has been mastered.  When it has, let your child show off.  Let him have center-stage at the dinner table.  Host a weekly "this is what I learned" night where your children reveal a new math skill, or participate in a spelling bee, or demonstrate a science experiment in front of the family.  Host a quarterly home-school fair where essays and projects are displayed.  Choose words that praise the new skill rather than the grade.  This type of recognition will motivate and reward your student much more than any grade ever will.

Praising your child's efforts with words of encouragement and respect develops a positive learning environment not possible through a letter grade.  When you, as the teacher, focus on what has been learned, rather than the measure of what has been learned, your children are free to learn fearlessly.

In the next blog, we will explore how letter grades encourage laziness and work against mastery learning.