Wednesday, November 7, 2007

What are we teaching our students?

With hours spent over the past few days getting grades finalized, I began to really think about this question. Often times, I have had students break down in tears because of a grade they have earned in my class. What is the driving force behind these emotions?Is the student truly upset at the fact that they believe they didn't complete work to their full potential? Do these students think that getting a certain grade on their report card reflects them as a human being? What reactions to these parents have when they see the grades on the report card? These are all important questions.
The system went wrong somewhere. The emphasis is always on the grades that students are assigned. From the time students begin school to when they graduate college, grades are the motivating factor... grades, grades, grades.
I have students ask me all the time... are we going to be graded on this assignment? I usually reply by saying... does it matter? Of course it matters to the students. They think they are in school to get a grade.
Who learns more?
The independent learner that gets straight A's every quarter, or the student that constantly struggles to get C's?
There is probably an argument for both cases.
The problem...
Teachers, parents and peers who emphasize grades... grades on report cards, grades on standardized tests. Students are constantly rated with a false sense of comfort in a "good grade". Motivation becomes an issue. We motivate with rewards that are extrinsic... candy, parties, extra recess, paper awards, money (parents giving money for good grades). These rewards go away. After you eat the candy, it is gone. When extra recess is over, its time to do work. When you spend the money, it is gone. It only leaves the child ready to ask for more.
Why should they learn? Why should they come to school? Why should they exercise their brain? Why should they even think? What would happen without these extrinsic rewards?

1 comment:

Jenny said...

Grading is one of my pet peeves! I assess continually, but I hate assigning grades.

I think that our earliest educational experiences (preschool, head start, kindergarten, and such) and graduate schools should be models for us. Students at those levels are learning for the sake of learning, rather than for the grades.

Have you read Fair Isn't Always Equal by Rick Wormeli? It's a fantastic book about how to make grades less of an issue and focus more on the learning.