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Grades vs. Experience-Points

Last week I had the opportunity to discuss gamification with a team of professors at Texas A&M University. As I presented my understanding of this concept, I came to an important realization on the negative impact of grades.

I've never really been a fan of grades, even as a child. No matter how systematic we try to make the grades, they will always be arbitrary: what quiz we decide to give, what questions we ask, how we weight homework vs. classwork vs. tests, etc. What is the point? Do grades accurately measure what we want them to measure? Do they tell the story we want told? I don't believe they do.

What are we even measuring? Achievement? Ability? Completion? Aptitude? Perseverance? Compliance?

If they aren't accurate measuring tools, why have them? Some might argue grades motivate students. Having taught in Montessori schools where there are no grades, I can say, that the vast majority of students will work for the sake of learning and for the satisfaction of completion, with or without grades. But what about those few that don't work? Students who don't work are simply not motivated by grades nor are they motivated by learning for learning's sake.

So, if most students are motivated without grades, and a few are not motivated either way, why do we continue to use them? Not only do I believe grades are pointless, I also feel they are detrimental to the majority of students, but particularly to those who struggle the most.

Because kids spend the majority of their day in school, their identity in school shapes who they are. Placing an F on a paper marks that student as a failure. Repeatedly marking F's seals their fate. How can a student overcome failure after failure, and why would they want to?

My students, having experienced significant educational failures, are exceptionally sensitive to poor grades. Conversely, A's and B's positively affect them much more so than the average student. Some of my students are so sensitive that I do not EVER mark problems wrong. Instead, I always and only mark problems they got right. Do you see the difference between the two? Instead of marking 15/20 problems wrong - I've checked 5/20 right. A little, yet very significant difference.

It is time to stop tearing students down and start building them up instead.

Even before gamifying my classroom, I have been marking "correct answers" instead of "wrong answers." The only difference is that I now call these check marks "experience points." So, how does this affect my students? If I were to mark my students' problems wrong, they would believe they had failed, greatly decreasing their motivation to try again. But by gaining points, the students already feel a sense of completion. Now, they are motivated to earn more points. They WANT to go back and try again.

Just like in a video game, I expect my students to master each level before moving on. If a student gets 5/20 on an assignment, they go back and try again. If a student gets 19/20, they fix the one they missed. On each level, my students work until they get 100%.

I have not changed their work in any way, nor have I changed my expectations. All I have done is changed their perception.


State Testing = Boss Level State testing is education's boss level. Education needs boss levels to teach perseverance in the face of challenges, and standardized testing, poorly designed though it may by, provides that.

Gamification One of the newest buzzwords of education is GAMIFICATION. Put shortly, gamification means using game principles to engage and motivate students. Gamification is NOT putting a student in front of a computer all day, every day.

Gamification Mistake #1: Fair Play I titled this post Mistake #1, because I am certain that I will make many more mistakes while gamifying my class.One thing I've been learning about is the aspect of "Fair Play," which basically just means making sure the game is fair for the players.

The Magical Leaderboard As many of you know, this is my first experience with gamifying my classroom, and there is certainly a lot for me to learn! As a teacher, my focus is on the content/curriculum, and game design comes second.

So You Want to Gamify? Based on the popularity and interest of my last blog, Gamification, I decided to create a list of resources, for those brave enough to embark on this journey.

Schools in The Apple Revolution: The User Experience What if we could design a program that allowed students to choose their best learning mode?In the Apple-inspired world, they can.


  1. So by changing your 'Grading' method have you seen a difference in those students that suffer from test anxiety?

  2. With expecting students to reach 100% before moving on to the next concept, do you find large achievement gaps in your students? How do you make sure every student covers the material in an appropriate time, and makes it through the whole curriculum? How do you teach a class with such large gaps in levels?

  3. I'm wondering how parents respond to no grades? Do they understand the thinking behind motivation, experience points and attaining 100% mastery? How is student achievement reported out at the end of a quarter/semester?

    1. As an intervention specialist, I was given the option to use grades or not. My "building up" method has always been met with parental enthusiasm, which I think stems from years of watching their child fail. A vital component of this method is my Assessment Report, which goes out every 6-weeks with their report cards.


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