Marks and money matter.

Do you have a child? If not you can play along…

Let’s scan, in your mind’s eye, the life you imagine with your child.
Does it include travel? Does it have family activities or adventures?
Does it involve your child partaking in activities like dance, reading, yoga or hockey?
Maybe you envision camping trips, hiking, or riding bikes?
Perhaps you dream of taking your child to New York City to see a Broadway show?
Maybe sharing a Canucks’ game?

Regardless…money probably is not THE central focus of your family. In context however, money matters and will make a difference to the decisions you make as a family.

In the above schema context is everything; the value of money is related to the value we place on experiences we share with our children (not to imply that only those that cost money are valuable). We as a society share ideals and dreams we have for our children and some of these cost money.

Let’s follow the same process with your child’s education. Let’s imagine your child’s life as they move through school. What do you dream for them? Do you encourage them to follow their hearts and find a passion? Do you imagine they might follow a passion into post secondary education? If at age 5 your child has a dream, to write, design, sing or care for animals, would you discourage or support them? Would you do everything in your power to make their dream a reality? Your child reaches high school, their passion still in place as they head into Grade 12. As you discuss post secondary plans with them, ONE of the variables in the discussion will be your child’s marks.

#truestory or not?

Marks can be used badly….just as money has the potential for abuse. But can’t marks be used as a meaningful way to document growth and progress? When we react to the misuse of traditional point based marks do we serve our children?

In context… marks matter to our children and the choices they can make (for grade 11 and 12 students). Lets recreate how we define marks and evolve our marking systems (updating report cards to provide information related to the specifics of your child, using grading practices not based solely points). Let’s engage in a conversation in the grey areas between traditional marking system and no marks….

The hard conversation is not the one that decides that marks are “bad”. Marks can be misused and abused. Marks can be used for behavior modification, marks can be used as punishment, marks can be given as rewards for Kleenex boxes, cans of beans for food drives, and marks can be bought and sold. But does this mean marks are bad in ALL situations.

If we are to topple the tyrannies inherent in our existing mark system, let’s address and rectify the abuses that exist within the system right now. Let’s work to create marking schemas that allow students to show what they know over a spectrum of time and ways. Let’s not, because our present marking system is outdated and rife with problems, walk away with our children sitting in these chairs right now. Let’s work consistently and conscientiously with children, with parents, to make marks matter that fulfill dreams and aspirations. Marks that enable rather than disable.

The hard conversation is the one that recognizes that our children receive marks. That is a fact.  Marks may be part a dream, as money might be part of a dream.

This is where we need to converse and put the spotlight. Not on mark hate, but on mark smarts.

Not on the polarized conversation for and against marks. We can do less marks, just as we can discover activities that don’t require money. Let’s not go black and white, let’s do grey. Lets build a mark system that empowers and matters.

Let’s make context our conversation. Let’s work to make marks matter in the way our children matter.

4 thoughts on “Marks and money matter.

  1. Carolyn – 2 years ago, I would have likely completely disagreed with you and said that we, as educators, must work to move away from grades and marks completely – they are harmful for kids and toxic to learning. In the past few years I have realized that statements like these (although I believe grading has a negative impact on learning) and stated this way just puts this big wedge in the dialogue. You make a great point – we currently work in a system of mandatory grades (and mandatory percentages in 10-12) so lets ensure that our ASSESSMENT practices are fair, transparent and more consistent from class to class and school to school.

    If we move too quickly, we can lose the trust of students and families we work with and when you only have them for a semester… losing trust can be detrimental to the relationship that is needed for effective learning. Personally, I also think that posts like this will help move people more than using words like harmful and toxic.

    We need to continue to push for changes in formal summative assessment but in the meantime, let’s work together to ensure that our overall formative and summative assessment picture improves.

    Keep doing what you are doing – work at the edge of the box and show people the continual growth and change that can take place within our current system.

    • Exactly!! I should have asked you to right this post for me, haha 🙂 What I began to realize last week after a conversation with another teacher was that I had been in “no man’s land” around assessment and was uncertain of the direction I should follow. I had been consuming lots of “anti-mark” material and while there is truth to be found (grading can crush learning and students can become addicted to external motivators that lead to learner burn out) there was something missing from the conversation. Your post on “black and white” thinking caused me to reflect on this dichotomy even more; marks are bad but I have to give them, very tricky.
      The other thing that concerns me is that the anti-mark sentiment has created a “marks don’t matter” mindset that translates into a anything goes mentality. I think this only intensifies and supports the bad aspects of assessment, rather than improve assessment practices.
      After much reflection, I found clarity on where I want to focus my energies in assessment. I still have to generate percentages for the children I teach and those percentages have a high value for parents and my students. And so for me, the work must be in the transparent, fluid and collaborative PROCESS of creating percentages with children, to serve them not to control or define them.
      As always thanks for pushing my thinking 🙂

  2. One of the ways that both money and marks are the same is they are both symbolic representations of something else. The problem comes when we forget this and think that they are fixed concepts. Marks are just numbers and they can mean whatever we choose them to mean. They are a way of communicating progress, a level of achievement. We (educators) still get to choose what they communicate. We could give marks for grit or creativity if we chose. We get to make up the system every day, we just forget that.

    • I like that comparison, I think you are accurate with marks having a symbolic representation of status, power, success. For many students marks are viewed as a tattoo; a permanent mark of what they can and cannot do. I think marks in many situations are used as a control mechanism. Maybe as we begin to relinquish some of that control and empower students, we can shift the marks as fixed mindset.
      I like your underlying message that we, teachers, can choose what they represent. Your right, yes we can.

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