Social Question

longgone's avatar

In what ways would schools change if there were no exams or grades?

Asked by longgone (17107points) November 5th, 2015

I’m taking a maths course at the moment. Most of my classmates are taking it for credit, I’m just there to learn.

I’ve found that I am much more motivated to study, and happier in class. I think that’s because I am not constantly worrying about the contents of an upcoming exam. When my classmates ask questions, their stress is easily visible. I, on the other hand, am able to just relax, and treat the problems as riddles.

I can’t help feeling sorry for all the frantic students in the world.

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52 Answers

LuckyGuy's avatar

I can think of a few reasons in favor of testing.
Without tests, schools and potential employers would have no idea if the student knew the material. How can they determine if the student is competent or not?
Some students are motivated to learn on their own but sadly most are not.
Look at the number of people (me included) who procrastinate until almost the last minute. Regular testing keeps the students – even the procrastinators – on track.

Students are told that supposedly everyone is equally capable of doing everything.
In the real world that simply is not true. I need to hire people that know how to use BeagleBone or MatLab. Anyone can say they know how to do it. But good grades in a class from a reputable school are a way for me to measure objectively. Sure, it is possible star performers can learn it all without ever being tested but I don’t have the luxury of investing time doing my own testing. Exam results from schools do that for me.
Also test results are color and sex blind. They are an objective measure. A person can be purple with one eye, one horn, and fly. As long as they have the grades (and don’t eat people) they will be hired.

jca's avatar

Also, tests and grades are a way of trying to ensure that teachers are teaching properly. If the majority of the class does poorly, the school administration will look at the teacher as a possible weak link.

Tropical_Willie's avatar

@longgone Keep learning, here is Goddard College, just what you are talking about.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Well, they’d change in that no one would know if some or all of the kids knew the material or not. They’d have no way to know if the kid should be graduated or not.
When I was teaching, we’d use test results to evaluate ourselves. If the majority of the kids got a certain section on the test wrong, we knew we needed to reteach it.

funkdaddy's avatar

My brother went to a college where (as I understand it) he essentially designed his own curriculum and degree plan. The staff were advisors and the ones with expertise closest to what he wanted to do worked with him to make sure he was on track and doing work that would be educational or useful.

Every other semester was an internship that they helped locate within the field.

He was able to get some pretty good gigs in hard sciences with the degree, so I think it can be done.

Bennington College – A Bennington Education

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

@funkdaddy Bennington is in the top 3 of my youngest child’s college list.

I got a MA from St. John’s College in Santa Fe, a fine school that uses the Great Books Curriculum. Simply put, everyone reads primary sources in a very wide variety of fields. It was a superb education. There were no exams. We wrote a number of small papers each semester, and we wrote a larger paper for one class once each semester. I evangelize about St. John’s to anyone who will listen, which does not include my children.

The tutors do assign grades at the end of each semester for the sake of the transcript.

I understand there are no grades at Bennington. At the end of each semester, the professors write an essay about each student’s performance. When a transcript is requested, copies of all the performance essays are sent.

LostInParadise's avatar

There has to be a better way than what is currently done. Students are treated like items on an assembly line. The goal should be mastery of the material, not passing tests. Students should be able to move at their own speed. If a student gets a failing grade, it is the school as well as the student that has failed.

Somewhere along the line the idea has been lost that learning should be an enjoyable experience. I once taught a semester of pre-calculus at a community college as adjunct faculty. There was no assigned textbook, so I made up my own lessons. I tried as much as possible to motivate and derive equations for the students. After the first two classes, two of the students told me they appreciated what I was doing, but they were only taking the class because it was required. All they wanted to know was how to plug numbers into equations. They transferred to another class. I felt sorry that such student attitudes were a natural part of the current public education system.

A teacher standing in front of a room lecturing is a rather inefficient way of transmitting knowledge. I like the idea of the flipped classroom, where students watch video lectures at home and come to class to ask questions and test their knowledge. The nice thing about video lectures is that if you don’t understand something, you can rewind and try again. It is also possible to include self-test quizzes to allow the student to see how well they are doing.

Olin College is another example of a more open ended teaching approach.

longgone's avatar

Thanks, all. I enjoyed your answers, and looking through the links was interesting.

I was not graded for a big chunk of my school years, which is probably why I feel grades are unnecessary. In terms of motivation, I see them do a lot of harm. I agree that they may make students study, but I can’t see much benefit in this type of compulsive cramming for tests.

I tutor, so I spend a lot of time with the kids for whom the system is not working. It could be argued that the mere existence of tutors is proof of that. They groan, and go through the motions. If they’re told to write a hundred words on something, you can bet they are counting the words. I am absolutely sure that they’d be better off spending their time learning about things which interest them.

I think it’s interesting that all young children love learning. If encouraged just the tiniest bit, they will ask endless questions, and satisfying their curiosity is a challenge.

This gets lost somewhere along the way, for very many people. I think we’d be better off retaining that thirst for knowledge.

Dutchess_III's avatar

It’s true. Children love learning. As a sub I got to see the changing of that, like in fast motion. Kindergarten, first grade, they can’t wait to come to class. Then…things start changing, but it’s mostly due to home life, I believe, than the class rooms or the teachers.

longgone's avatar

^ You think so? That’s an interesting theory. What might change at home, in that age period?

Dutchess_III's avatar

Nothing changes at home. Things are like they always have been, but the kids start reacting to it differently. I think the little ones, 5 and 6, can lay their problems aside for a few hours, easier than the older kids can. The little ones always have hope. They believe in magic. What is going on now is all they have to worry about.

As they get older, school becomes the biggest part of their lives, and their home life may be tearing that down. Maybe not directly but in other ways. They can’t study for a test the next day because of the screaming going on. So they flunk the test, and if the parent even bothers to learn about it, they’re just told their stupid.

They may take something home from school that they’re very proud of, only to be told it’s stupid and they’re stupid.

And that goes on and on, and they start becoming surly because they can’t succeed, no matter what they do. They give up.

At least they can get some attention at school without fear of getting beaten by a drunken parent. They may be sent to the principal’s office, but so what? At least somebody noticed them without hurting them.

Dutchess_III's avatar

* they’re * Told they’re stupid. Sorry.

longgone's avatar

^ Woah. Yes, the children you’re describing probably never had a chance. I agree that changes in their motivation are probably not due to school.

I do think there are many different aspects we need to fix, concerning school and education in general. @LostInParadise made a good point. Just the idea of taking classes because you need them to get some kind of grade is insane, to me. I believe we would retain the interest in learning shown at a young age, if we were free to choose which subjects we want to learn about, when, and in which way.

The fact that the majority of children cheers at lessons being cancelled is worrying. We have large brains, and our period of development is incredibly long. Ten-year-olds should love to learn. If they don’t, we must be doing something wrong.

I studied law for a while. Attendance was optional. When I didn’t feel like attending, I studied at home. When I did attend, I was surrounded by young adults who were surfing Facebook on their laptops, scribbling down the occasional note. Others may see this as cause to tighten the rules at university. I see it as proof that the rules are too tight already. Students don’t take responsibility for their learning. Many of them passively wait to be taught, and an even higher number just doesn’t care to learn at all. They get up in the morning, and they go sit in lecture halls – but expanding their minds and acquiring knowledge is not one of their priorities. They’re just tired of it all…and when those exams hit, they will either panic and cram – or give up.

Dutchess_III's avatar

At what grade should the kids start to be allowed to learn only what they want to learn?

longgone's avatar

Right away.

Dutchess_III's avatar

So, they learn their ABCs and 123s in Kindergarten. Also, the days of the week. That’s really about all. They should be able to opt out? And where would they go instead?

longgone's avatar

I’m not saying they should be allowed to wander off and cruise the streets. I’m just saying they should not be forced to study.

I’d advocate for creating schools where children want to be. If schools are places where children gather, seeing their friends and trusted, inspiring adults, they will want to be there.

If they then spend their days playing, that’s okay. Children learn through play, and a big dose of playtime will create happier and healthier adults. That engineer has probably built huts at a young age. The biologist may have spent hours watching ants, and the author might have read books back-to-back. If everyone was allowed to follow their interests, we would definitely have fewer of the depressed people who freely admit they do not like their life.

I don’t worry about a less restricted environment being accompanied by a decrease in knowledge. Kids want to fit in. They want to be able to do things, and they are amazingly persistent at setting themselves challenges. I highly doubt there will be many children who resist learning to read and write, especially if they are surrounded by adults and older children who enjoy both. After acquiring the basic skills, I’m sure there will be more branching out, and the term “general knowledge” may have to be retired. It’s obsolete already, in my opinion – declaring a collection of facts more valuable than all the other things there are to know is quite a strange concept.

Dutchess_III's avatar

But isn’t that’s what elementary school is all about…learning the basic skills? That’s why I asked at what age a kid should be allowed to determine, for themselves, what they want to learn and what they don’t. When you said, “Right away,” my mind flashed to a kindergarten classroom,where they start learning the most basic of basic skills.

lynfromnm's avatar

I have never felt that tests and grades as currently administered were an accurate way to determine what has been learned or earned. In the first place, shouldn’t you test people at the beginning as a benchmark so you can make a later comparison?
Also, the effect of facts and concepts you’ve learned about may not hit a student until years later, when something clicks into place as the culmination of study (not necessarily in the same field) and life experience.
Ultimately, a student is the one responsible for studying, absorbing and making the most of whatever facts and ideas they expose themselves to. In my experience, most of that does not happen anywhere near a classroom. A grade is a meaningless measure..

Dutchess_III's avatar

We do give them short quizzes at the beginning of the school year, @lynfromnm.

Without grades or tests, how would we know that a student has, or has not, learned the subject matter adequately, and to what degree?

longgone's avatar

@Dutchess_III I’m not sure I understand the post about learning basic skills. Yes, I agree that children learn the basics in elementary school. I just don’t think they need to be forced to.

As @lynfromnm points out, grades and tests are not particularly effective at determining a student’s understanding of a given subject. To clear up misunderstandings, tests don’t do squat. All they are proof of is how well the student has managed to retain what he’s been taught. In a sense, all tests are memory tests.

What’s worse is that students are constantly compared to each other. It’s not their effort that’s tested, it’s their effort and skill in comparison to all the other children in their grade. The idea that all children of a certain age should be able to understand lessons at the same pace is a fantasy. There are huge gaps in development between children of the same age group, and slapping low grades on those who may need more time (or have other things going on) is not helpful at all.

talljasperman's avatar

Maybe kids can give themselves a grade on the honour system.

funkdaddy's avatar

I think the truth is that not just the kids are being measured. The teacher is being measured, the curriculum is being measured, the school as a whole is being measured, the demographics of the class are being measured.

We’ve asked for that data so we can see some proof of improvement or viability. We hope we can use all that to make better classes and a better education. We also hope we can see if girls learn better with other girls, or in a mixed class. We hope we can see if income or race affect test scores. We hope we can see if education level of the teacher improves learning and retention.

We’ve applied scientific methods to the classroom and those methods have to be repeatable to most, if not all, schools, teachers, and students. It’s all intended to improve the system as a whole. Some good information has come out of it.

For better or worse, it does not foster a friendly environment for exceptions and is going to cater primarily to the fat part of the bell curve in a lot of ways.

When you look at educating thousands or millions of students you can see how people came to those decisions. When you look at educating one special individual, the holes stand out a lot more when they affect 100% of the people you care about.

Dutchess_III's avatar

@talljasperman HA HA HA HA HA!!!!

Good answer @funkdaddy. Many people seem to think we can taylor our education system around each individual student. We do, to a certain extent, for example, a student may go for extra help in reading or math, but in general we have to cater to the average.

lynfromnm's avatar

It is not necessary for anyone but the student and his/her parents, if applicable, to know how much the student learned, how well or how quickly the student learned. Why does the school want to know? This baffles me. The teacher can only offer facts and concepts to be learned, and has no control over whether the student learns.

As @longgone has pointed out, the only reason to give students a grade is to compare them to other students or to some standard that inevitably is flawed (because people have such different and unique abilities and challenges and learn at different rates).

If acquiring knowledge is the goal of education, only the student can control that and determine how valuable it is. You cannot prevent a person who wants to learn from doing so, any more than you can force, cajole or humiliate a person who does not wish to learn. Those who want to learn are not put off by the setting, the teacher, or the manner of measuring the learning.

LuckyGuy's avatar

If you had no tests and let the students work on the subjects that interested them would you still have a “No child left behind” policy? Would you let the kids who just want to be dolts be dolts? Would you spend the extra time forcing kids to sit in class and behave or would you allow them to walk the streets during the day?

How many of the kids you tutor are learning subjects because they want to? I’m guessing virtually zero. They called you because a test proved they needed help and their parents cared and had the resources to employ you. Would they have called you if there was no upcoming standardized test?

I’m sure you looked at the video of the disruptive girl who eventually had to be ejected by police. What subject would she like to study? I’m guessing only “txtng yo frenz” would interest her.

I wouldn’t mind if students drew pictures all day because that interested them – as long as I don’t have to pay for their public assistance when they can’t get jobs.

LuckyGuy's avatar

I was at a restaurant this morning – Sunday breakfast at the local diner. Behind me were 4 teens poking away on their devices while eating and talking. Suddenly one of the girls yelled: “Oh s**t! I have a test tomorrow! (blah blah unintelligible) to study”.
To me, that “Oh s**t!” is an indicator that the test is the only reason she will crack her books.
I could be wrong, but if I had to bet you know which side I’d put my money.

Also it was funny this came up this morning!

Dutchess_III's avatar

@lynfromnm “It is not necessary for anyone but the student and his/her parents, if applicable, to know how much the student learned, how well or how quickly the student learned. ” The only way it would not be applicable for the parents to know is if the student is in college, then this whole point of “Why can’t they learn what they want,” is moot. It’s called a “Major” in college.
Now how is the student or his parents going to know what the kid has learned if the teacher and the schools don’t know?
How does the school determine that a kid may need some extra help in certain areas if they don’t know whether he or she needs help or not?

longgone's avatar

@LuckyGuy See, I really don’t think any children want to be “dolts”. That’s the fundamental difference between education as it is, and education as I think it should be: I truly believe all human beings want to learn. School is doing a good job of killing curiosity, but we are all born with a natural instinct to know more.

No, my students often don’t want to learn. That argument is flawed, though. The fact that their motivation is gone is one of my main points, I don’t see how tests are of any help here.

I haven’t looked at the video, but I’ve seen plenty of kids who do not want to be in school. I think this is due to the faulty system, not due to the kids. The number of children who happily get up every morning is probably rather small. I see far more children yearning for the weekend than I see happy kids who can’t wait to get started on their homework.

I agree that the girl you saw may have forced herself to study. I think students should want to study, instead. There are many schools which do not force their students to pass tests, and I know for a fact that the students there study, too. They want to. They don’t say, “Oh s**t. I have a test tomorrow.”

@Dutchess_III I’m interested in your mention of “help” students may be getting. If tests were not graded, I agree that they might offer a way to find out where children need help. However, over here, students are usually told to study more. The kids I tutor do certainly not get extra help from their teachers, so if they happen to have tutor-less classmates, then those kids are on their own.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Many of the teachers I’ve known invite the kids to come in after school for a bit for extra help. I used to do this.

By “help” I mostly mean remedial classes, like reading and math, etc. Several students, up to about 7 or so, from different classrooms, go to the same teacher, at the same time, who does nothing but teach remedial reading or math. It’s a juggling feat, if you can imagine. You don’t want the child out of the room during a crucial lesson so all the different teachers have to arrange their schedules so the kids who are out aren’t missing out on other crucial lessons.

Same thing at the other end of the spectrum. Kids who are advanced get advanced placement. I’m not sure how that works, though, because we didn’t have AP when I was in school.

Also, you would hope that the parents would step up to offer some assistance for their own kids. Too often, though, the kids who really need it have the parents who are the least willing to help. Those kinds of parents whine, “Why should I have to teach my kid when he gets home?? Why ain’t the school doing its job??”

None of this would be possible without some sort of measuring stick to make a determination.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@longgone I wish every kid wanted to learn. I have no data but I would say only 5%-10% have the motivation to work independently and cover material faster than the class. I get that number from my high school experience. Out of a class of 900 students the school picked 30 to be in an accelerated program. ( was in there by the way) We had tests but we also knew our stuff. We took AP coursed in Calc and Physics because we wanted to. Very few kids in the school did that. Left to their own devices they would have gladly hung out at the beach.

You would love to work where I work. We have to learn stuff all the time. e.g. “I need somebody to figure out and master ‘beagle bone’ , Get what you need and do it.” Someone will always volunteer. It is great. But every member in the group has already proven that they are in the top 5% of their class. They are self motivated.

These are the skills I need and the types of problems we work on. (Sending you a PM.)

Dutchess_III's avatar

In the beginning every kid does want to learn. However, by the 3rd grade so many other factors come into play that some kids can lose that desire and delight, and it’s the saddest thing to see. See my post here.

longgone's avatar

@Dutchess_III I’m happy to hear that. It’s a small step in the right direction, though the focus on grades does not reflect the idea of tests being used to help children. It creates pressure, which we often confuse with motivation.

I don’t think the system should rely on parents to work with their children. It’s great if they do – but many are not able to, whether that’s due to time issues or even an inability to understand what the problems ask for. At the same time, I think that tutors should not be part of a healthy system. To many children don’t have access to that sort of support.

@LuckyGuy Like @Dutchess_III said, every kid wants to learn. The fact that high schoolers don’t want to (agreed) is proof, in my opinion, of a faulty system.

I know things could work differently, because I’ve seen them work differently. Pupils of “Free” or “Democratic” Schools don’t lose their joy of learning. And yes, they still find jobs!

I’m hoping to spend some time at Summerhill next year. I’ll report back.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I still disagree that it is the system’s fault. I think the parents and home life have far more to do with it than anything else. Why should a kid give a rats ass about school when they’re beaten and raped at home? Why should a kid give a rats ass about school if he goes home to parents who talk about how fucked up the education system is and what an idiot his teacher is?

Why did I continue to love school, and education in general, if the school system is that bad? I also love tests.

Why is it that a guy I went to high school with, literally took the same English classes with the same teacher that I did, yet can not put a grammatically correct sentence together? I think it’s because my parents insisted on proper grammar, whereas his probably used improper grammar at home. That just isn’t the system’s fault.

My husband came up through the same kind of system. However, it’s been a bit of a battle to dissuade him from saying things like, “He’s went,” and “They was.” Well, we go to visit his father, and that’s how his father speaks.

I think the family has a far greater impact on whether the kid does well in school than the school system itself.

longgone's avatar

The kids who thrive in school (I, you, @LuckyGuy) are few and far between. Did your classmates seem to love learning? Mine did not.

The number of students who dislike school, on the other hand, seems very high. I doubt it correlates with the amount of kids being beaten and raped at home.

“I think the family has a far greater impact on whether the kid does well in school than the school system itself.”

That’s a strawman. I can argue that the system needs to change without believing that only the system needs to change, in every case.

LostInParadise's avatar

Suppose someone wanted to deliberately create a system to kill any interest in learning. How might that be done? First have everyone go through classes in lock step. If you do poorly, too bad. Keep moving. Emphasize rote learning with no motivation or historical context. Do lots of testing. Give limited choice of electives. Sound familiar? I don’t think that the current system could be made any more effective in making learning seem dull.

longgone's avatar

^ Yep. And unsurprisingly, it works like a charm!

Dutchess_III's avatar

Some of you guys might want to spend some time in classrooms. We teachers do the best that we can do, when we’re given 30 kids at a time, and told by the district that these are the skills that need to be mastered so we can continue to receive the funding from the government to keep the classrooms open.

And I don’t disagree with them. A child really needs to know how to write his or her first name by the time they get to first grade.

A child really needs to know how to read by the time they get to third grade.

It’s not always a blast. It’s not always fun. But sometimes it is. Sometimes it’s exciting. Some times fascinating. A lot like life, actually.

And how in the world would you give unlimited choices in electives, @LostInParadise? You have to have staff competent to teach those electives, and supplies to support those electives.

longgone's avatar

@Dutchess_III I’m surprised you think I’m blaming the teachers.

Dutchess_III's avatar

It’s the teachers that make a subject interesting or boring.

longgone's avatar

@Dutchess_III Sure, that’s true – but they’re not making the rules and, thus, are not responsible for creating a system of pressure and compulsion.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Much of that I agree with. I just hated going into schools where the principal mandated how things were to be taught. One classroom had a material divider between it and another classroom, and a couple times a day that divider would be retracted, and you’d be faced with teaching 60 kids, instead of 30. It was ridiculous! Neither of the teachers liked it either, but the principal said it was to be done this way because of some theory he had.

funkdaddy's avatar

What if we changed the subject a little bit, I wonder if it would change the perspective as well?

What if, for whatever reason, the world changed and children needed to achieve a fairly high level of physical fitness before they became adults if they wanted to have a fair chance. How would we all implement that across whatever number of people you’d like to envision?

Would access to the time, space, and equipment with instruction be enough to make sure everyone gets a fair shake? Would people’s own drive and a child’s propensity toward play ensure everyone was fit by the time they were 18?

lynfromnm's avatar

It’s still up to the kid (or parents, if child is underage) to SAY “I need help.” Only kids who actually want to learn will say that. The ones who don’t, aren’t going to learn no matter what you do.
The only person to whom it should matter how much is learned, is the student.

Dutchess_III's avatar

@funkdaddy, that’s a good analogy. Some people would still refuse to get into shape no matter what opportunities they were given. They might get in a little bit of shape, but drop it the first opportunity they had.

@lynfromnm For the younger students, they have no idea what they stand to lose by not learning. That’s where parents need to come into play, if they can be bothered.
It seems to me that most of your arguments are really geared toward college level students, not elementary students.

longgone's avatar

@Dutchess_III Yeah, exactly. I advocate for teachers when I tutor my kids, actually. Many of them dislike their teachers with a passion, and I try to make them see that teachers have a hell of a job to do. I think it’s fairly typical for teachers to go in with high expectations. Many teachers really do want all children to thrive. In time, they realize their options are limited – and I think many of them give up at that point. I don’t blame them.

@funkdaddy “Would access to the time, space, and equipment with instruction be enough to make sure everyone gets a fair shake?”

I certainly believe so, yes. Assuming we’re starting young enough. Small children move around constantly, and we actually teach them to sit still at the moment.

If I did believe children needed help to become fit, under no circumstances would pressuring them with grades and tests be on my to-do-list. I can think of a million ways to ensure children keep fit without associating exercise with stress. Because that is what we’re doing. Compulsory lessons might get children to develop a muscular body and a brain that’s filled with facts, but it comes at the price of associating exercise or studying with stress, and I don’t think that’s worth it.

My two biggest issues with the education systems would have to be

A) The price we pay – stressed children who force themselves to cram and lose the will to learn. Or even their interests, as one of my students recently discovered – she has given up piano, soccer, and recreational reading because she is too busy with school. Then, she happened to be given an assignment asking her to describe her hobbies.


B) The sheer ineffectiveness of compulsory studying. This thread has got me reading about Summerhill again (can’t link, as I’m reading books) and students of that school want to sit national exams, from time to time. They do not have to, but they can. When they decide to go ahead with it, they start to study what’s required. They usually get to work about a year or two before they want to sit the exam – and they succeed. This is after spending years doing, in some cases, no formal studying at all. They play for years, and then they hit the books… because they want to learn, and they are not scared of tests or daunted by the idea of work.

longgone's avatar

[Mod says] Moved to Social.

funkdaddy's avatar

@longgone – thanks for the discussion and thinking it through. I’m still trying to wrap my head around how a system without checks would ensure everyone gets a better education. I’m sure it would be ideal for those who are self motivated and do not enjoy competition. But I’m not sure how it would serve those who aren’t motivated to learn.

I clearly remember students in first and second grade who just didn’t care. I don’t mean they were unintelligent, they just didn’t care about class and school in general. Their mind was somewhere else. I’m sure it could be learned behavior, but I really don’t think it was due to the pressure of school, or testing. We really don’t have much in the way of tests or pressure that early. It’s mostly acclimation.

How would a system with no evaluation identify and help them? Can they just opt out at an early age? I’m not being ridiculous, I just mean if it’s all driven by the individual, what about those that don’t have an independent drive for learning for whatever reason?

To be clear, I think a system not focused on evaluation can work for situations where most other factors are in a student’s favor and with a skilled and focused teacher group to guide them. When the student chooses to be engaged. I don’t know if you can educate millions in that way though. The demands for all involved are much higher.

LostInParadise's avatar

@funkdaddy , I can’t imagine children not wanting to learn to read and write, which is the most important thing learned in elementary school. Just to be able to get online should be sufficient motive. If it takes a little longer for them to get the urge, so be it. We need to get away from this idea of there being a learning timetable.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Again, all kids start out wanting to learn. But then things start popping up. Reading comes hard to some of them. My son was one of those. However, they were also teaching “sight reading” during that time, which was a miserable failure IMO. By the time he was half way through his first grade year and still couldn’t read a lick, I took the job on myself. I taught him phonetics. Poor kid! I wrote a big vowel on 5 pieces of paper. Everyday I’d stick a vowel on the wall above the couch. When he came in and saw it, he’d have to make the short sound of that vowel, and give me a word that used in.

One time he came in the front door, glanced up, saw the vowel, his face just fell, and he turned around and went back out and came in through the back door! I cracked up! But after a couple of weeks he had his short vowel sounds down, without having to even think, and he began reading after that.
However, reading just never clicked with him like it did for me and his sisters (I was reading before I got to kindergarten,) so to this day he just doesn’t read much. He doesn’t like it.

I have met 4th graders who literally still could not read. My son would have been one of those had I not stepped in.

I never got mad at the system. I never blamed anyone, I just helped out.

longgone's avatar

@funkdaddy You say, “Their mind was somewhere else”, and that’s a very important point: It is completely impossible for thirty kids to be interested in the same thing, at the same time, day after day. You can scold them or send them to the principal’s office for a lecture – they will be interested in different things at times. Likely, a lot of the time. However, their mind is somewhere else. It’s not inactive. It’s busy. At a free school, the child who is daydreaming through his history lesson could actually leave the room and go learn about Vietnam, or horses, or whatever he was daydreaming about. In democratic schools, that’s okay. Children are allowed to spend months reading, or playing with their peers. They are also allowed to spend all their time solving quadratic equations.

We retain amazingly little of the lessons we learn in school. We remember what we are interested in, and school often fails to interest students. By studying, we are trying to deceive our brain, making it think we are interested in Norse mythology. Our brain does not believe us, and hurries to delete all the unnecessary baggage. It could be argued that we would be better off spending our time learning about things we are actually interested in. Like @LostInParadise said, the likelihood of any children refusing to read and write if they are free to approach the task without pressure is minute. In any case, our current system is not doing a good job at ensuring that all children learn to read. As of 2011, 4% of adult Germans are unable to read and write. 14% are “virtually” unable to. Considering that we spend at least nine and up to thirteen years in school, that’s insane.

“How would a system with no evaluation identify and help them?”

I don’t think tests are necessary to make teachers aware of these children. They are not reliable enough, and good teachers know who they have to look out for, anyway. As to how a system devoid of tests would help them – well, as long as we are requiring students to work, testing them, and assigning extra homework for misbehavior, we are very simply telling them that learning is a chore. Remember Tom Sawyer and his fence? Chores are defined by their obligatory character. There is nothing about learning which should inherently be unpleasant.

Summerhill gets lots of children who have lost the desire to learn. Entirely. Those are the kids who will not take part in any studying, and it often takes months for them to re-learn that immersing yourself in a particular subject can be loads of fun.

LostInParadise's avatar

Check out this link for a rather extraordinary TED talk. A computer was placed in a hole in the wall in an Indian city. Street children figured out how to use the computer and used it to learn English and how to read and write. If children can do this on their own, imagine what they are capable of with just a bit of guidance and help.

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