Think Tank: Grade Level vs. Life Level

It’s that time of year again – the beginning of school time.  Students (and teachers) come with wonderful expectations and grand goals about how they are going to turn away from bad habits and towards better ones.  Most of these goals are pretty universal.  Go to bed on time so I don’t fall asleep in class.  Don’t procrastinate on assignments.  Get good grades.

I want to focus on the last one.  Because grades are pretty important, right?

. . . not as much as you might think.

I’m not trying to say you should ignore grades.  I’m just saying they’re not as important as you think they are.  Because what are grades actually good for?  Well, when you’re in school, they prove that you will move up into the next class and eventually graduate.  That’s not a bad thing.  Grades also help you win scholarships and are part of what colleges look like when you apply to higher level education.  Also not bad.  Some students get rewards from their parents for good grades (or punishments for bad ones), so grades give you a certain bonus in your life at home.

But that’s about where it ends.  Once you leave school, no one cares about your grade point average any more.  When I was putting my resume together to apply for teaching jobs several years ago, I included my GPA assuming that, as I was applying for jobs in education, potential employers would want to know that I had done well.  My academic advisor told me to remove the GPA, because employers would only care that I had a degree in my subject.  They were, she said, more concerned with my skills and abilities than my grade point.

In the classes I teach, we put it another way: there is a difference between grade level learning and life level learning.  When you are learning for a grade, you jump through the correct hoops at the correct time and leave a class with the grade you wanted – but how often does that grade honestly reflect the skills you’ve gained?  I would imagine that nearly every person who attends school and puts forth even some effort has, at one point or another, received an “A” for a class and left it knowing they hadn’t really worked that hard for it, nor do they have any more ability in the subject than they did before the class.  On the other hand, I would also guess that most people have fought quite hard for a C or a B in a class and left it with many more skills and much more satisfaction in a job well done.  It’s not the grade that makes the difference – it is the skills you gain.

When you are a life-level learner, you learn that the most valuable thing you can do is to take charge of your education.  You apply lessons taught in class to your own goals and aspirations.  Then you challenge yourself to go beyond and discover the skills you need to be successful in the area you would like to pursue.  If you, for example, want to work at Pixar, there are many skills you need that a normal high school can’t teach you.  There is no “Creativity 101” at my school, nor is there a basic animation class.  Life level learners see opportunities and take them – but they also create opportunities for themselves.  If there isn’t a class on creativity, then they learn creativity in other classes, and experiences they have outside of school as well.

So there’s your challenge for the school year.  Although good grades are certainly a valuable goal – you can’t graduate without them – I would suggest to you that when you strive to learn skills and become a life level learner, you will get the good grades thrown in as an extra bonus.


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