To Grade or Not to Grade

When I was growing up, I used to look forward to “report card” day.  As a relatively responsible student, I took pride in handing grades I received from my teachers to my parents. Aside from serving its function of accounting for my progress in school,  there was also something satisfying about seeing what I’ve achieved neatly measured in numerical figures or their corresponding letter grades. What purpose would grades serve though if parent and teacher are one and the same as in the case of homeschooling?

Our early years of homeschooling occurred in an atmosphere that encouraged a more relaxed approach in studies during the first three or so years.  Children who went to “real” school, I heard, were not given homework until the 4th grade.  And since we chose to register as “traditional” homeschoolers (even if we get the least funding this way), we had the most freedom to direct the education of our children.  Where we were, the more accountable you were to the government or the more input you allowed them to give in terms of requirements, the more funding you receive as well.

And so as we followed our “love to learn” philosophy as well as our focus on learning skills vs. content, we were led to proceed, unaware of such a thing as “grades”.  If the children reached a certain percent of mistakes in their math or grammar exercises, I simply made them try again.  There are unit exams to tell me they are getting it. When they read something or I read to them, I asked them to narrate it back to see whether they comprehended. If an experiment failed, we thought through what went wrong and start over.  When it came to writing/composition or an art/music skill, with some guidance and feedback from me or instructors, it was up to them to practice and I just watched how they progress throughout the years.

As evidence of our learning (and YEARS of it as the stuff will show), we have boxes of workbooks, binders of exercise pages, shelves of books read, piles (and files) of pre-writing material and compositions, and a bunch of art work and projects (or photos of them). More importantly, I see children who decide they want to learn or explore something and go about doing so.  As they mature, I observe them manage their time by making their own schedules and follow through by keeping to it. I see them mustering up the discipline to give up doing what is good to do what is even better, whether in personal areas of their lives (spiritual, physical, recreational), duties/chores at home, or academics and extra curricular activities.  And daily I am witness to their continuing desire to learn.

Back then, these were more than enough. Our educational consultant called on us at home twice (fall and spring) a year.  She spent half the day with us while the children relayed or demonstrated to her what they were learning in each of their subjects.  Then, she turned in a written progress report summarizing where we were at in our studies at the exact point in time of her visit.  Other than this, I decided to avail of the optional standardised testing provided just so we could have an idea how we were faring from year to year.

Now that two of my students have about 3-4 more years left before university, I have to face the facts about grades and the dreaded transcript.  Since I am new to this, I am taking quite some time getting this all set up even if I have mapped out the high school courses for both girls based on what may be required and their inclination.

As I am going about this, I’ve come to realize some of the benefits the nonexistence of “grades” (and having to come up with a measure like them) has brought about in our early homeschool years.  From the beginning up to now, I went about choosing curricula and programs on the basis of whether they will enrich our learning experience, never being limited by whether these would allow me to easily assign grades to my children.  Of course, it was a bonus that such a curriculum as Tapestry of Grace sold a product called Evaluations that includes tests, answers, and grading rubrics for such subjects as history, geography, writing, and literature.  We had this all the time but hardly used it until now that two of the children are in rhetoric level and we need grades for their high school work.

I was also able to focus on just teaching the children without having to spend much time grading all their work.  They just went about accomplishing our curricula with ongoing feedback from me as needed.  Instead of coming up with proof of what we have learned, I read and researched how to continue improving how we were learning.  Some of the excellent programs we have found were very teacher-intensive and I had to become proficient in implementing them. And we spent a sufficient amount of time talking about what everyone was learning as well.  This ensured that they were processing whatever skill or material we were currently mastering.

Lastly, the children were never motivated by grades, not having been introduced to the concept.  There were times I knew a child really understood her lessons, I made it least priority to even go over and mark her daily exercises.  And this didn’t keep that child from plodding along.  She was learning.  Her math problems were becoming more difficult.  She was comprehending better and adding to her vocabulary.  She was reading more and more challenging literature.  People were commenting about her writing. She was becoming more and more adept at connecting where events happened and when.  She was swimming more laps or running more miles or making better music. That was enough.  The learning was achievement in itself.

I know doing away with grades while home educating is not possible everywhere. This was just our experience as well as its results so far.  But even as I move towards more accountability for my high schoolers’ work, I can still keep in mind the benefits to our homeschool our “freedom” from grades provided us in our earlier years. And anybody homeschooling can do the same, whether they are required grades or not.  They can keep to the “out-of-the-box”, “un-institutionalized”, or “anti-standardization” nature of homeschooling.

Now, getting my high schoolers to a university – that’s another story.


One comment

  1. Pingback: Creating Enthusiasm for Learning | living and learning

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