May 18, 2011

Gever Tulley: Killing Learning With Grades

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This is the most depressing picture out of yet another stellar Gever Tulley keynote, this time at INPlay11, a conference I help curate in Toronto, where play, learning and the video game industry meet. An infant's picture, graded. C+. I wonder what the + was for.

There are two things I despise about how elements of learning have been systemically misinterpreted in pretty much every school setup around the world. One is teacher-designed homework, and the pathological belief, against the odds, that it adds any value to the learning process. The other is the use of grades to justify the teacher's existence, while destroying the confidence, self-esteem and understanding of what learning is for amongst our young people.

As Gever suggested, there is one chap who covers both areas particularly well with great roundups of his research and others'. All school governors, principals and decision-makers in Government would be in a more informed position to make some seismic changes to the happiness of young people and the families, with whom they row every night about homework and the mission for great grades, after a read of Alfie Kohn's The Homework Myth and Punished By Rewards.

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About 15 years ago, I wrote a paper for my department on the curse of homework. It vanished without trace, and is now a ghost on some ancient school computer long gone to the knacker's yard. I wish I'd kept a copy - but it ended, I know, with the statement that in some European countries, homework was illegal. Is this still the case?

I've never been a fan of homework. Never set it with my classes, and my students get some of the best exam results in the school... I personally think the not setting homework is an important factor in that - no confrontations about homework not being done or done poorly means I can build more positive relationships with the students - but it never seems to be accepted as such by anyone else :(

Me too - I used to fight a running battle with my faculty head over homework as I refused to set the required stuff... My view was always that the kids should be encouraged to consolidate classroom learning in whichever way they believed would be useful to them, not me or the system I had to promulgate. I'd provide suggested activities, and discuss these with them, however, my belief that they should be playing and exploring; browsing and discovering; creating and communicating, or just reading - anything in fact other than bashing through non contextual worksheets was always regarded as heresy in my schools. Thankfully, homework is actually voluntary...kids can't be forced to complete it or be punished for not doing it, at least in Europe in the state systems. My own children and step children don't do it, but we do work together on activities which constitute a wider home learning descriptor I think, and which I'm sure do much more for their rounded development overall..

Couldn't agree more. My particular bone of contention at the moment is the fad for sticking so-called 'target grades' to pupils' books. Utterly demotivating and limiting. Pupils' learning journeys do not run at the same pace throughout their statutory education years, and while realism is important, we must allow them to leap forward if they're ready, not feel that the ceiling of their potential is depressingly close.

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About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

Ewan wrote How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, a manual that does what is says for education leaders, innovators and people who want to be both.

What does Ewan do?

Module Masterclass

School leaders and innovators struggle to make the most of educators' and students' potential. My team at NoTosh cut the time and cost of making significant change in physical spaces, digital and curricular innovation programmes. We work long term to help make that change last, even as educators come and go.

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