What grades don’t tell us (and how to assess yourself instead)

Do you want your child to get the top grades? Or, do you want them to get the best grades for them?

The vast majority of the parents who choose to work with us at Life More Extraordinary Academic Coaching are looking for help so their children can reach their full academic potential – not to pursue the top grades no matter what the cost.

And, to be honest, I'm not at all keen on working with the families where parents want their children to achieve high grades at any cost.

In this article, we'll break this down and think about:

    • What ‘reaching your academic potential' really means in reality
    • Four grades you can award yourself that are helpful in promoting a growth mindset
    • What's wrong with grades as a measure of academic success

What ‘reaching your academic potential' really means in reality

For me, reaching your academic potential is more than just getting the highest possible grades within your reach as an individual.

It's about an attitude towards learning and the behaviours you exhibit towards learning as a result of that good attitude.

These are some of the attitudes and behaviours I would expect to see from someone who was reaching their full academic potential:

  • Turns up to school ready to learn. This doesn't just mean that they've got all the equipment and resources they need; it means they've got an open, expectant and ready attitude to what they might learn that day.
  • Does all classwork and homework to the best of their ability
  • When something takes their interest they ask questions about it and look for further information on the internet, in books, on the television or radio and at places of interest
  • Looks at feedback and responds to it positively, working hard to improve their work
  • Takes responsibility for their own learning and outcomes, but asks for help when they need it
  • Has a healthy balance between their studies and the other things they like to do

Essentially, reaching your academic potential is about being open minded, ready to learn in all ways from all opportunities and having a growth mindset.

Is your child doing these things? To what extent?

Four grades you can award yourself that are helpful in promoting a growth mindset

A teacher, Peter Williams, wrote on Twitter about how his school has scrapped target grades and, instead, gives students performance indicators.

These indicators are:

  • Ambitious
  • Active
  • Passive
  • Resistant

These words conjure up an image of different types of student in your head without knowing a lot more than the word themselves, but Peter shared the breakdown of each performance descriptor in his Twitter thread.

I believe that these performance indicators provide students with much more positive feedback that will help them to develop the kinds of behaviours that will lead to reaching their full academic potential. They actually tell each young person what they're doing right and what they're doing wrong, which grades don't. 

What's wrong with grades as a measure of academic success

Grades don't measure attitude. They simply measure attainment.

For some students, it's much easier than it is for others to get very high grades. Academic work just comes more naturally to them.

However, despite the high grades some of these students will be best described as passive or on the active/passive borderline. These students could do even better and get a lot more out of their education if they engage actively or ambitiously with their studies. And, I don't mean get more out of their education in terms of better grades (although a marginal improvement would be a by-product). Instead, I mean they'll get more out because they'll be involved in their education as an enriching experience, rather than something they just have to ‘go through' and get to the other side. They'll also be less likely to fail when things do require their effort in the future.

On the other hand, there will be students getting much lower grades who are giving their education their all. They turn up ready to learn, with open minds and are ready to work hard. They get books out of the school library and ask for help when they need it. These students should be considered active or ambitious.

Reaching your potential is about your daily behaviours

I've written before about how getting the grades is about having a good attitude towards learning, which leads to the right behaviours. And, the right behaviours lead to results.

Is your child ambitious, active, passive or resistant?

Which of the four performance indicators would you give your child? Why do you think they're this way? What would they say about themselves?

We work on helping students in all four categories to improve their academic performance in The Extraordinaries Club. If you'd like some advice to help you get started, check out our free download, 7 Top Tips For Parents To Help Your Child Reach Their Full Academic Potential.

P.S. We've got a full list of the performance indicators and how you can help your child to improve in The Extraordinaries Club for members to download.


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FREE download: 7 Top Tips to Help Your Child Reach Their Academic Potential