A teacher was telling me today about a student who wanted to transfer from her class to another teacher's section. The boy told her not to be offended, but he just wasn't learning much in her class and thought he should try another teacher. Well, she was very offended---her stated reason was that the kid earned an "A" in her class first semester, so he must be lying to her about not learning anything.
As I continue to think about grading practices, this particular scenario interests me. The "A" here represents very different things to the kid and the teacher. The teacher thinks the grade reflects learning and the kid identifies it as hoop-jumping achievement. The kid can do the assignments, but their value to him is very low. (Most kids wouldn't do them in such a case.) My guess is that the teacher would feel differently if the kid was scraping by, gradewise, and said the same thing to her about his learning. I wonder what it would take for this pair to agree on what a grade should mean and what learning looks like.
The other part I think about is how even a couple of years ago, I would have reacted like this teacher. I do believe that learning is the burden of the student---if a kid says he isn't learning, then it isn't necessarily because I haven't taught him. But how many kids have come to me over the years to talk about grades...and we never really communicated about them? What might I do differently next time I'm in the classroom?