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- International Mother Language Day-February 21st - February 25, 2016
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- Thank You In Advance: The Power of Expectation - January 15, 2016
- Under the Guise of Inclusion - November 20, 2015
- Therapy Dogs and Schools - October 15, 2015
- SUPERPOWER Schools - October 13, 2015
- When Life Happens While You Teach - September 22, 2015
- "I'm Her Favorite Student!" - August 31, 2015
- Good Writing vs. Great Writing: Leading the Way - April 27, 2015
When I was in an interview for the job at the school where I now work, one of the questions they asked me was what I thought about the importance of grades. My answer? Grades are merely a tool. They don't always represent the heart of a child, or the effort that was put forth or where they will end up in life. Where do you fall on the side of grades? Are they a measuring stick or an implication? Are they even needed at all? One thing is certain, they can and often are, a source of argument and hurt feelings between faculty, students and parents. While we often tend to put an emphasis on the almighty "A," we have to ask ourselves: when is someone actually deserving of one? Do you feel that no one deserves an "A" or everyone deserves one? Maybe you feel that grades should be eliminated altogether? If you've ever been in the middle of a grading policy argument, you may have had to deal with these issues and more, but looking from the student's perspective, might just be the exact place we all need to start when contemplating the role of grades and the almighty "A."
One type of Demographic:
There is a phenomenon in a very small percentage of students that I have observed over the years. When these students finally decides to buckle down and actually try hard on a paper, in their mind, it should be an automatic "A." Why? Because they actually tried! They actually put forth effort! It is devastating to them when a paper comes back with less that perfect marks. I've seen it happen dozens of times. If not handled appropriately, this lower grade that they felt they didn't deserve, could in fact shut them back down from trying at all. Their mindset is, "Why should I try, for even when I do, I still get a bad grade." I recently had a student that went "MIA" because of this very reason. When I finally found him standing on the front steps of the school, I ran out to him and told him that I knew he had worked hard, and it really was a good paper, but it just needed some fixing. He tried to act cool like he was fine, but I knew he wasn't. I knew he was this close to running away (he was waiting for his "ride" to arrive), but I also knew that the encounter changed him in that moment. He magically reappeared in his HELP teacher's classroom, and the next day the paper was turned in with the corrections and all was good. At first, to this child, a grade meant: "I actually tried, I deserve an 'A' and if I don't get one, I may not ever try again."
"A" At Any Price
There is another group of students that are totally the opposite of the first group: the over-achievers; the students that live for the "A," the students that will do whatever it takes: an "A" at any price! These students almost make our lives as educators easy. You say "Jump!" (metaphorically) and they say "how high?" What is it like for this student in their daily walk at school? Tight schedules, heavy loaded semesters, jam-packed evenings of extra-curricular activities and weary, worn out children. Have you ever gotten a paper from one of these students and had to give them a lower grade than usual? Oh, not fun. Not fun because you know the reaction that will then follow...devastation. Their perfectionistic attitude that makes your job so easy, has just taken a new turn. You now have to break their hearts by breaking their expectations of perfection. Maybe at this point, you really do wish there were no tests, no grades, no measuring stick...because that measuring stick just wacked the kid on the head. How do we handle this as an educator or a parent? There are many ways: First, get to the heart of the issue...the need for perfection. To this child the grade represents WHO they are. It may represent love, acceptance, self esteem and more. Reassure them that they are more than a grade. That not everyone who tries succeeds the first time (just ask Einstein...ok, you can't ASK him, but, well...you know what I mean). Talk to your child or the student and remind them that a grade or score isn't failure, it's a learning opportunity to find out where they can improve. Remind them that it has nothing to do with their self worth or value. Remind them that they are loved because of who they are, not what they do or do to perfection. What does an "A" mean to the over-achiever? Perfection at all costs.
"Hello, my name is Johnny, and I'm on team average." One time I had a teacher tell me that if people would stop naming their children "Johnny," we wouldn't have any more educational issues. But seriously, there is another demographic out there that I'll call "Johnny Average." This student is completely different from the two demographics above. This student really doesn't think much about grades. Grades to Johnny are just something that can either get him in trouble, or keep him out of trouble. This student that feels like "I go to school, I do what I need to do to get by, what's the problem?" And really, what IS the problem? Often educators, and possibly parents (not always), realize that these students do not seek success and they do not seek failure, and that bothers us. These are the students that you do cartwheels to excite in class. These are the students that you will do anything to get them to like the unit. These are the students that you just know that if you found that one thing that interested them, they would actually care! Maybe, maybe not. I'm not saying to give up on them...on the contrary...but what I am saying is that grades to them are not really a motivator except as it hinders any fun they may want to have in the future by not getting shoved into remediation. What do you do with Johnny Average? Just keep trying. Just hope that one day, they finally decide to get excited about his education. He may not take Advance Placement classes, attempt an ACT or even come close to thinking about college, but you do have them in your class, and it is your job to teach them what they need to know; it's not your job to take it personally. What does an "A" mean to this child? Not much.
Where ever you fall on the side of the opinion of grades, scores and percentages, like it or not, as it stands at this point and time, they are here, and are most likely here to stay. HOW we relate this information to the student is what we CAN change. HOW we translate this to our children is what we CAN change. We've all most likely experienced the above demographic of students in our careers as educators and parents, and it is a delicate situation indeed, but looking at it from the student's perspective is always the starting point. Don't forget why grades exist. Don't forget what grades mean to a student and don't forget that they are a tool; not a measurement of the heart of a child, their self worth or where they will end up in life.