The other day in English class, we read something that made me look at things in a new way. It was an article about an honors English class in college that decided to do away with grades.
The students in this honors class can choose not to be shown their English grades for the semester. At first glance, it might seem like kids that wouldn't want grades are just lazy or are trying to get out of work. That's what I thought when I first saw this article. Just looking at the "no grades" in the title, I assumed the kids must be goofing off and not getting grades.
However, that is not what's really going on at all. Students who choose this program actually do more work than those who get grades. They go above and beyond what they would have to do to get an A, and instead try to do their best work at all times. The kids claim that they are working a lot harder in English than their other classes, despite not getting a grade assigned to the work.
The instructors notice the difference, too. Many instructors say they have students that are "grade grubbers," or kids that will only work to get a good grade. Many of the students who are involved in the honors English class have realized that they are, or were, just working for a grade.
This idea was inspired by a former student at the college who decided that he would work harder without grades, and ceremoniously burned his report card, unopened, each semester. Although having no grade for one class is a bit less drastic, the spirit is the same in both instances.
Reading about people that worked harder without grades made me wonder; maybe I would work harder if I wasn't graded either. I like to think that I do my best at everything because I want to do my best, but that may not be entirely true.
I know I would never be able to burn my report card. Not only because my parents want to see it, but I feel like I need some incentive for working hard at school. It's possible, though, that I actually would do more work if I wasn't graded for it. Not getting grades is different than choosing to ignore them, though.
Maybe we should just abolish grades in schools. It seems like the idea is sound, at least when tested in an honors English class in college. But here, with a website online to check your grades at any time, and no rewards for going above and beyond requirements, our schools are rather entrenched in the system of traditional grading.
I'm not sure that a no-grade program could be successfully implemented in a typical high school anyway. If there weren't grades, some students would work harder and learn because they enjoyed it, while others would most likely not do any work at all. Even the students that would try to work harder would be impeded by those who didn't want to learn, and they might not be very motivated in the first place. In the end, the whole system could collapse and we could end up with no one learning anything, which is the exact opposite of the intended purpose.
The "No Grades" article may not have any practical uses for our schools, but it did make me rethink my attitude toward school. Rather than being a "grade grubber," I'll worry more about doing my best and less about the grade.
Editor's note: Maggie Guter, 15, is a sophomore at Marquette Senior High School. She is a long time member of 8-18 Media and is also involved in in sailing, skiing and piano. Her parents are Jake Guter and Mary Doll of Marquette. 8-18 Media is a youth journalism program of the Upper Peninsula Children's Museum. Through the program, teams of kids write news stories and commentaries on issues important to youth and about any good, or bad, things youth are up to. For more information call 906-226-7874, or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.