Schools, Grading, & Frozen Thought

I love schools.  But my friends and colleagues know they can easily get me on a rant about how broken the education system is: over-emphasizing standardized tests and grades, providing unequal education based on socioeconomic status, not thinking about what students really need long-term, letting decisions be made by politicians or based on tradition.

anti education eraAfter reading the first half of James Paul Gee’s book “The Anti-Education Era”, I am sure he would join in on my rants.  But he would also agree with me that even though they are flawed, schools are valuable institutions.  I found his insights into human thought and action very helpful as I considered the struggle my school is facing as we re-evaluate our grading practices.

Gee explains that when a group of people form an institution, they have to create policies that “freeze thought” about certain issues in order to make the institution function properly and to make it easier for the people involved to function.  For a long time, schools have followed a “frozen” grading structure based on the 0-100% and A to F scales.

But as schools and society have changed, and as we have learned about what really motivates learners, it seems that grading practices might need to be changed.

How can a school overcome frozen thinking about grading and rally individuals around the institutional goal of assessing student learning consistently and effectively?  I don’t have the definitive answer, but in this white paper, I examine how Gee’s claims can shed light on the grading problems in my school.  If you read it, I’d love to hear your thoughts!


One thought on “Schools, Grading, & Frozen Thought

  1. Hi Jill,
    I loved your summary of Gee’s Frozen Thought. Although I wrote on a different topic (, I could really relate to teachers showing frozen thought at school. I think in general, teachers get stuck in their ways. It is so easy to continue to do something you have always done – even if you don’t know why you do it that way! In the past, I have had administrators that were quick to past down a mandate to change. This of course caused resentment of staff as they were not even necessarily aware of the reason for change. Currently, my administrators are often too hesitant as we look to change. They don’t want to step on toes and as a result, we often move very, very slowly as we look to change.
    Our school has also been discussing grades for the past two years. After a year plus of discussions, we finally moved forward and changed our grading scale (96.9% used to be an “A-“). However, even after this decision was made by the committee, I still heard many teachers say things like “Well, I will just have to grade harder.” We also began discussions about allow re-testing on Summative Assessments. Again, this caused much controversy as many teachers were not willing to think about the possible advantages. Again, I heard things like “I never got to retake my tests”.
    I agree with you that we can point out teachers frozen thought but that it often won’t be enough. Somehow, we need to get them to buy into the benefits of the new model. Maybe if each teacher is asked to sketch out the pros and cons for both the old and new way of doing something, they frozen thought can be thawed out and they can clearly recognize – and buy into – the new way of doing something.
    Thanks for sharing!

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