For the Sheer Joy of Learning

by Lynn McBrien

Promote the joy of learning through non-graded classrooms.

What compels students to learn and achieve good grades?

Think about it. We tend to believe that students learn best when they are motivated by competition for the highest grades. But if this were true, none of our children would enter kindergarten "ready to learn." The truth is, they've learned some of the most important lessons -- walking, talking, communicating with adults and peers -- before knowing that grades even exist.

Some elementary schools are now capitalizing on that early childhood way of learning by eliminating grades. Called non-graded schools or classrooms, this theory begins with the premise that children naturally want to learn. The traditional system -- lecture, memorize, test, grade -- frequently takes away the joy of learning. Students become externally motivated, coveting rewards like grades and prizes, rather than learning because of a genuine interest.

So how do you know if your child is doing well? By his or her work! Children in these classrooms are required to read and write extensively, to present projects, perform experiments and other activities, cooperate in group work, and learn from one another. Parents are expected to be involved with their children's learning, and most communicate frequently with the school and teachers.

An example of a highly successful non-graded school is Children's Community School (CCS) in California's San Fernando Valley. By the time they leave CCS, students can read, write, and speak two languages. CCS students also go on many field trips and then create projects and reports.

The business aspects of their trips are also emphasized by students' role-playing when they return to the classroom. If one group goes on a field trip, they report back to the other students about their experiences.

For more information about non-graded schools, read the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development's (ASCD's) "How to Change to a Nongraded School."

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