I read an article this morning in Edutopia titled Creating an Authentic Maker Education Rubric by Lisa Yokana. The article has some very good suggestions for the types of things we might look for in students’ makerspace projects, specifically three very sound categories: process; understanding; and product. It is worth a read and has given me some useful ideas about posters or rubrics or group discussion guides I might want to include in the makerspaces I am planning for my own schools.
One sentence right up front in the article made me cringe, however. Ms. Yokana asks “How will we justify a grade to students and parents alike, especially to the student who ‘just isn’t good at art’?” This sentence really sidetracked me, and I almost stopped reading the rest of the piece, which does have some good, useful stuff. Ms. Yokana, in her Edutopia bio, mentions the need for a “change of paradigm” and states that the “present model is no longer valid.” Yet, bam! Right from the start, we are talking about…grades. Grades in a makerspace. Grades in a place that is about innovation, creativity, and imagination. Grades where kids engage in playful, curious experimentation and (if I can use the phrase without risking our district’s state rating) the joy of learning.
It probably should not surprise me, given the fact that I have seen teachers assign grades to anything and everything a kid does in the school. I have seen a kid’s average go up because she brought the box of tissues on the school supply list. Permission slip returned? A+! Walking in a straight line? Extra credit!
I hate grades–okay, I’ve said it. Grades are mostly for the kids who have hacked the system, who know how to play the game. Grades are overblown, overused, and usually give very little or no insight into learning. Grades do not engage or motivate most students. A favorite quote, which I keep pinned to the top of my Twitter page, is from Alfie Kohn:
“Helping students forget about grades is the single best piece of advice for creating a learning-oriented classroom.”
Taken even further, getting rid of grades entirely would be an even better step. There are alternatives. My kids’ kindergarten and first grade teachers sent home detailed, qualitative reports that listed the performance standards my kids were meeting, on their way to meeting, or needing to learn. There was no number, no arbitrary and meaningless percentage. It was informative and helpful, and I doubt it caused an ounce of stress or apprehension for my kids, their classmates, or any parents. Kohn (1999) cites a series of studies by Bulter that demonstrated that the mere presence of number grades reduced students’ creative problem-solving, even if qualitative feedback was included. Put simply, grades kill creativity and motivation.
I think assessment of student maker projects is a great idea that should be implemented. However, assessment should be for growth and generating new, better ideas, not for grades. It should be self- and peer-driven, to promote reflection and critical analysis. Makerspaces are intended to promote creativity, innovation, critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, and a host of almost impossible to quantify character traits and skills. I can quickly tell if a kid knows the 17th vice president of the United States (Shuyler Colfax, of course). I find it a lot harder to assign a number to the ideas of a child or the worth of his/her creations.
I don’t want to sound like I am picking on Ms. Yokana. She shares some great ideas. Rubrics would be great tools for project assessment, certainly. Her 3 categories of assessment would be great areas to focus class discussions. How about using her basic ideas to create posters for the school makerspace something like these?
My point is that assessment is great and appropriate, but grades do more harm than good. Keep the grades out of your makerspaces, your genius hours, your coding clubs, etc. Let’s give the kids these precious few times to think and invent and tinker without fear or consequence.