Be the grading difference

I have written a previous post on grading called The Potential of Success talking about my fear of failure in writing this blog. Well, I was right, I haven’t been posting twice a week as I promised myself, but I am still posting twice a week as much as I can. I have “failed” as I set out on goals, but I am no longer afraid of “failure,” I know I will continue to improve, and in the meantime, do the best I can.

But just as the letter “F” scares me, upon reflection, I don’t know what the other letters mean. My understanding is that “A” means I couldn’t have done better and “F” means I couldn’t have done worse, but can’t I always do better and worse? I actually made this comment on a post about teacher feedback by Starr Sackstein and then realized I may have stumbled upon something.

Starr bounced off of the realization that grades were not good for students, and thus teachers should be given more than a “satisfactory” as well. Administrators should give feedback instead of words with no real meaning.

I realized that, even though we have realized that grades are not beneficial to students, our society is still based off of them. A percentage of correct answers on a multiple choice test gives some information, but even that doesn’t tell a student what he or she is struggling with. Instead, teachers should begin changing the importance of grading by giving feedback and emphasizing the importance of this feedback to students and parents.

While some students will still make sure to always get As in school, this may be most beneficial to the students who are failing. Encouraging them to find out what they did well in may encourage them to improve other areas. Rather than focusing on the “F” on their paper, encourage them to focus on the sentences that outline the strength of their idea, their ability to be creative, or even as simple as their understanding of a certain aspect of grammar. It would be nearly impossible to do everything wrong, but an “F” can send this message across.



The potential of success

When I began this blog, I wrote at least five blog entries without even seriously considering publishing. I have a history of beginning blogs and then forgetting about them. I was afraid of continuing this pattern. I was afraid of failing again.

I feel as though this was instilled in me early in grade school. Just like many students, I have fear of the letter F on a report card. I am afraid of failing. It kept my ideas from spreading to those with other great ideas and more experience, and our ideas coming together to find solutions.

I heard a TedTalk by Carol Dweck on the power of “yet” in education. One problem in education is that everyone is on a timeline. This timeline does not factor in the different learning abilities of every student, as each student learns every concept in a different way at a different rate.

Carol Dweck proposed the idea of instead of assigning students a failing grade and demanding they create the course, we assign students a grade of “yet.” The students must retake the course knowing that, instead of failing a course, they have not “yet” mastered a course. The word “yet” provides hope.

I propose we go a step farther. Students master subjects at a variety of different paces, each subject requiring different learning abilities. For instance, I am not a science nor a math person, but I do well in some aspects of these subjects. I propose we have more of a self-paced learning strategy, incorporating a variety of tools including computers, student collaboration, and teacher support. In essence, students learn everything in the same order, as every concept builds on each other. Each mastery is celebrated. But as one student masters a concept, they move on to the next, independent from the rest of the class.

Because of my experience in the current education system, I feared the potential of failure at a new blog, and this kept me from publishing this blog. Students should not fear the potential of failure. Failure is a potential of everyday, but potential success should be more important. In taking risks, breakthroughs can be accomplished. We do not want our students to fear failure and prevent these breakthroughs from occurring.

The Public Education System Failed Me

As I have developed a passion for reinventing education, I have looked at the educational background of those I aspire to be. What I found were many Ivy League undergraduate degrees, a path that was not open to me based on my grade school academic achievements. I am intelligent, I got good grades, I have supportive parents, I was never wanting for anything. So why am I only now finding my passion, and realizing how detrimental my educational background is on my future.

I can probably trace my problem back to Elementary School. I was taught the same way every single other student was taught, but my personal strengths and weaknesses were not addressed. One example involved second or third grade English. We were given reading assessments in the beginning of the year, and I was placed in the middle level group. My personal weakness was reading comprehension, but I was placed with students with a variety of weaknesses. I was never taught specific skills to help strengthen my weaknesses.

This practice continued throughout grade school, average classes, average grades, with no attention paid to the fact that I did well on homework but not on tests. I did not understand where my deficiency was.

In my semester of student teaching American History and my year as a second grade Teacher’s Assistant in a low income school, I know that some of my weaknesses would have been addressed now. Through these experiences I have learned elementary skills such as reading comprehension, as I learned how to teach it to different students. But we still have a long way to go to address the weaknesses and celebrate the strengths of every student.

I have traveled and spoken to well educated people in New York City and Washington DC. Without exception, they were surprised to learn I had not been a successful student. I take this to mean that I come across as an intelligent individual with ideas to contribute. Why am I just not considered intelligent? Is this not what public education should have done?