In his book Disrupting Class, Curtis Johnson writes about how our constants and our variables have been mismatched:
Just as manufacturers had to test each product when it came off the end of the production line because they couldn't predict which products had been made correctly, educators had to test their students because they couldn't predict which of those in each batch had learned what. Repair, rework, and rejects became costly elements of both systems. Just as a professional discipline of inspection emerged in industry, a professional discipline of assessment has emerged in education.This shift from individualized instruction to monolithic content delivery targetting batches of students changed the teacher's job. We estimate that at least 80 percent of the typical teacher's time is now spent in monolithic activity - preparing to teach, actually teaching, and testing an entire class. Far less than 20 percent is available to help students individually. A profession whose work primarily was in tutoring students one on one was hijacked into one where some of the teacher's most important skills became keeping order and commanding attention.When students learn through student-centric online technology, testing doesn't have to be postponed until the end of an instructional module and then administered in a batch mode. Rather, we can verify mastery continually to create tight, closed feedback loops. Misunderstandings do not have to persist for weeks until the exam has been administered and the instructor has had time to grade every student's test. Rather than a fixed time to learn with variable results student by student, the amount of time to learn can vary, but the resulting learning can be much more consistent. In other words, assessment and individualized assistance can be interactively and interdependentently woven into the content-delivery stage, rather than tacked on as a test at the end of the process.
When I share with others that I do not grade, often the response is one of bewilderment. While it is true that some congratulate me in a kind of envious tip of the hat, most teachers and parents alike scramble to rationalize how the hell a classroom could even function without grades. Some like the idea - others don't - but no one can begin to conceive of an alternative.
That scares me.
If your vision of a classroom is for the teacher to stand at the front of the classroom, dispensing their knowledge of a ceaseless curriculum while students sit with their knees promplty bent at 90 degrees, hands crisply clasped resting on their individual desks, with rigidly vertical vertebras, then your vision of education, like Curtis Johnson explained above, has been hijacked by the factory model.
Small class sizes are necessary but not wholly sufficient in achieving truly progressive education. We must rethink more than just class sizes -- that is why I look to the curriculum guide that, over the years, has become a rule book.
There's less than 2 months left in the year. Go talk to almost any teacher and ask them how they are doing, and they will almost certainly gripe about how much they have left to teach.
The bottom line is that there is too much content-driven curriculum.
There is too much.
Can you see now how learning has been hijacked? Teachers are scrambling like mad to keep the assembly line of curriculum operating, and there is NO time to stop the line, because there are quotas to be made. Accountability pillars need to be met. This is where teachers tend to simply cover everything and uncover very little.
No wonder teachers need grades. The factory model of teaching large batches of students requires the teacher to spend most of their time dispensing of curriculum. There's no time to help the kids learn, the teacher is too busy teaching.
Here is a slide from Rober Marzano's What Works in School:
This is exactly why I say that narrowly conceived, overly prescriptive, bloated curriculums are at the heart of much of what is wrong with education.
I know too many good teachers who feel they have to do bad things to kids out of necessity in the name of curriculum.
Here's another way to look at it. Dan Pink writes about how management is unnatural:
We forget sometimes that "management" does not emanate from nature. It's not like a tree or a river. It's like a television or a bicycle. It's something that humans invented.
Just as I have written about how standardization is like management in that they are both man-made fabrications, I too believe that grades are merely a human invention. Like classified newspaper ads, dial up internet, CDs, landline phones, film cameras and fax machines, all inventions have their time and place, but they also have a shelf-life - at some point, they become obsolete.
Grades are only necessary if we continue to subscribe to the factory model. That subscription has come due, and it's time to move to a more organic, personalized model.