Thursday, 22 January 2015

Just an opinion piece.

Just an opinion piece. My thoughts are my own.

Recently, I wanted to know about the history of grades.

I googled the letter A. My search revealed nothing of value. In fact, the phrase “waste of time” came up more than once in the top sites (along with several articles about TTC rate hikes by John Tory). This result is likely an indicator that my search term is inaccurate. I know that because of the feedback with which Google has provided me. Thank goodness for feedback!

On my next attempt, I googled “grade A”. Now, I’ve gotten somewhere. The second hit is to this wikipedia article. Turns out grades may or may not have come from a professor at Cambridge named William Farish who used them with his students in 1792. He is also known for having given the first written university exam. Thanks, William.

Other results suggest that grading is borrowed from shoe factories in industrial England, where the best quality shoes were given an A grade (an “F” meant the workers weren’t getting paid).

Grades are great for meat and shoes, but what about for helping our children learn? I know that a large F appearing on my computer screen after my initial search (for the letter A) would definitely tell me my search skills needed work, but without any additional information I might not have determined a more accurate term was needed.

The conversation about the usefulness of grades in learning is well worth having. A good look at that wikipedia article led me to the most recent research on grading and learning. Check it out here. The abstract for the article reads as follows:

Parents do not send their children to school to learn how to speak. How then do children learn to speak? The objective becomes obvious to children due to the frustration of being unable to communicate. Learning tasks allow for practice. Feedback is immediate and clear because adults love to help young learners. Applications of new knowledge are made so as to continue learning. Children take responsibility for all aspects of this “natural learning process.” Natural learning obviously works.


The traditional teacher-responsible design for education in universities conflicts with what we know about how people learn.

I found this research compelling. Grades are artificial; a valiant attempt, during the industrial revolution, to measure the learning of a vast number of pupils filling new educational institutions. But, they do not model how learning occurs, nor do they promote learning. Rather, some say they end learning. 

Are the findings of this article the end all and be all of pedagogical research? Of course not, but there’s a conversation to be had, and it needs to be evidence-based. 

This blog post is my personal opinion, based on some of the evidence I've come across. I know I’ve made errors. If I want to increase my knowledge base and learn more about the issue, I have to keep researching the topic, keep refining my search, but I can also rely on the feedback of others. I know that if the comment section for this entry simply reads “A” or “D” or even “F”(Thanks, William), I will learn very little, but if you prod me, ask questions, or point me to facts supporting an alternative view, I will learn.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this bedtime read, Phillipe. It's always important to start with research. I'm glad you had some fun with it.