That encapsulates the battle raging in my head right now: How do you push students to do their best because the learning and the skills are intrinsically important in a system designed to measure "good enough" with a letter and a percentage?
That's something I've been thinking about a lot lately.
The idea of teaching character alongside content is not a new one; education reformers always throw in the character traits they value most or feel is lacking in the previous generation.
My generation was pushed towards individual achievement and "reaching our dreams." Now, we talk about grit and determination as being essential to success, but the dialogue in education is FAR more about how to integrate the 5 C's: collaboration, communication, creativity, curiosity and critical thinking.
Are those things bad? Hell no. If you've read my blog for more than five minutes you know I'm a fan of all of those things.
But what I keep struggling with is how much to push my students to figure out for themselves, and how much to walk them through step-by-step.
Because if I don't walk them through step-by-step, then they make mistakes.
And if they make mistakes, their grades go down.
And when their grades go down, they panic, and their parents panic.
And then they email me with ALL OF THE PANIC.
And that's the week I've been having.
No. It says, "I don't understand why you haven't changed my grade yet! I sent you the work OVER AN HOUR AGO. Please fix that now."
Or it says, "What can I do to get an A in this class? Please respond immediately because this is really important to me."
I'm being slightly hyperbolic, though I have received those emails (nearly verbatim) several times in the past few weeks.
It's back to the eternal #flipclass struggle: How do I make grades LESS IMPORTANT and make learning MORE IMPORTANT. In other words, how do I break the addiction to the crackpipe that is the letter grade in order to push students to deeper learning and an ability to challenge themselves?
I don't know the answer to that. And I live in a community where a B is unacceptable, and an A- still represents a failure. Maybe even a failure of character.
Yet I have this wish that seems almost ridiculous at times: I want parents to email me about how much their kid is talking about pharaohs and scene in the The Wednesday Wars where Holling tries out all the Shakespeare insults on classmates. I want them to ask for ideas to help their student write more for fun. I want them to ask for suggestions for books to read with the whole family.
Don't get me wrong. I LOVE having parents who are supportive and helpful in getting their 6th grader on track when it comes to grades. I like that if I email a parent about a specific assignment, it usually ends up finished within a few hours.
But after two days with nearly 100 emails (and almost double the number of in and out of class questions) ALL ABOUT GRADES, I'm ready to wave the white flag and give a few worksheets instead of the complex projects I normally assign.
I design activities so that students will struggle. They struggle. They panic and get Not An A. Their parents get Very Worried and want to help. The student feels like a failure. Eventually the work gets revised but everyone feels like crap.
I also know that when you're frustrated, you see fewer solutions than you would normally.
I want a fresh start where the conversation stops being about grades and starts being about learning again. It happened at the beginning of the year. I just need to get back there.
But I don't really know how.
So that's what Andrew and I are working on right now. If you have ideas, please share in comments.