our words make worlds

Thinking about Grades and Education

By Roshini Alageshan, 2nd year French and Spanish student, King's College London

As service-led learning, the Language Acts and Worldmaking Laboratories module embodies the role of languages in the community. It is interesting because it helps the student as well as the community they are working in. One of the main goals of this module is to push students to get a greater sense of personal efficacy, consciousness and personal identity. This makes students conscious of their surroundings. Another goal of this module is to teach students the ability to transfer the skills learned in their languages module and put them into action in their community. This could be aimed at all sorts of communities, from primary and secondary education to immigrant and LGBTQ communities and many others. Again, the beauty of this module is that it allows students to practise the skills learnt in the course. This idea of being able to apply the skills in real life situation is important as this will be beneficial as a work experience. Thus, this module can help a student post-university, during a job interview.

Throughout the laboratory, we spoke about many aspects of this module. I will be focusing on grades and will discuss whether grades are a necessity in general. The grading system was arguably placed to help teachers process a large number of students in a shorter period of time. From there on teachers continued to grade because so much of education is built around grades. It’s a system they were brought up with and are used to. Grades are an essential tool for teachers to measure a student’s understanding and track their progress. This can have both positive and negative impacts; it can be positive as it can motivate them to reach the highest grade and potentially bring the best out of them.

On the other hand, grades can also be demotivating and can crush one’s self esteem. Some students find it upsetting when they put a whole lot of effort and still not get good grades. But there are also students who are just as happy if they have a passing grade, as long as they don’t fail. Some students only seem to learn what’s being graded and disregard the rest of topic. From this we can argue that the marking system is inconsistent in measuring a student’s effort, their real potential and if they really understood the topic. Furthermore, for some grades seem to be the only goal.

There’s this pressure to get the highest grades possible or a student won’t be satisfied; and grades play a huge role in students’ mental health. Another problem with the grading system is that a student’s minds can become so clouded by the grades that they forget about the actual feedback. Thus, the initial purpose of grading: tracking and evaluating students is lost. Alternatively, grades can be used to rank students; again, this affects everyone differently. Competition can increase motivation to do better and challenge the students to do the best they can. However, this can also have an adverse effect on students, because some people don’t like the pressure of being compared and ranked. Moreover, bias can also play a huge role in competition and comparing oneself can be negative as it brings unnecessary pressure.

Instead, students should focus on themselves. In this respect, self- or peer-evaluating work before giving the grades might be better than just handing out the grades first. This is important because the mind is diverted from grades and is more focused on the actual feedback. Self- or peer-reflection will allow the students to engage with the marking criteria. This heightens their comprehension on what’s needed to improve themselves. Sometimes, student don’t know what they are being marked on, so by marking their own or their peers’ work, they understand the marks scheme more.

Whilst there are some pros with self- and peer-marking, there are also cons. In regard to peer-marking, sometimes people don’t take it seriously, or it can be awkward because they feel like they don’t have the right to mark their peer’s work. In terms of self-marking, the con is that it could lead to bias, gender bias. Research shows that women tend to undermine themselves whereas men tend to over exaggerate their skills. However, I believe that this is secondary, because self-marking allows students to become familiar with the mark scheme and understand the objectives in order to obtain good grades. Moreover, they are more likely to accept their strengths and weaknesses. I think self and peer assessment are important to increase improvement amongst students. So, yes grades are an important tool to measure understanding and process a larger number of students, but feedback is far more essential in terms of improving the students and allowing them to reach their true potential.

Finally, when I was mentoring year 11’s this year, I saw how grades are impacting students on deeper levels. In general, research says that the grade boundaries for languages are harsher than other subjects. Due to this, students are afraid to pick languages for A levels as they believe they won’t get the grades. They are afraid to pursue something they love because grades stand in the way.