Make School Different: 5 Things We Need to Stop Pretending

I have very much enjoyed reading the diverse posts at #makeschooldifferent of late. I just can’t help adding my Top 5 to the virtual discourse, so here goes…

1. We need to stop pretending… to celebrate differences in our staff and students and actually embrace them. There are many educators trying to change the culture of the traditional school. This includes developing new types of relationships with students in an effort to promote the most positive and productive learning environment possible. Too many teachers, administrators and parents are afraid of change. In doing so they themselves become ‘barriers’ to creating a unique educational experience that every student deserves.

2. We need to stop pretending… that every student needs to be a vocal leader who loves school. In an effort to create a positive school environment and turn out ‘ good character robots,’ some teachers attempt to force all students to be ‘leaders.’ I am all for encouraging students to be kind, respectful, happy people. Not everyone has a bubbly personality or is interested in taking up the next great cause selected by the teacher. This does not make them a bad person.

3.  We need to stop pretending… that just because we call something an authentic learning task (or real world learning task) that it is. For example, when we ask our class to calculate the area of a back yard which is 10m by 14m, and have them figure out how much it would cost to build a fence, this is not an authentic learning task. Do we do this at home all of the time? The answer is no! If we were to go buy the materials and build the fence, we can then call it an authentic learning task.

4. We need to stop pretending… that learning needs to happen in a classroom with a teacher looking over a student’s shoulder. Depending on the grade level, teachers need to get out of the way and let students learning on their own. We should be there to assist them not micromanage them.  

5. We need to stop pretending… that the positives of grades and standardized testing outweigh the negatives. Simply…they don’t

Hope you enjoy or don’t enjoy my list. Either way, I hope it adds to the discussion.

I challenge all educators from TLDSB to share their Top 5.

Can Throwing Out Grades Help Students with a Mental Health Illness?

You bet it can!

It also helps nearly all of our students reduce personal levels of anxiety. Don’t take my word for it, here are two examples of how my grade 7/8 students this year are experiencing a no grades classroom for the first time.

eliminate grades

Student A is an above average student who routinely works hard to produce her best work. Last year she would routinely worry about what grade she would receive on completed work. Often asking me to look at her work ahead of time and provide a preliminary grade so she would know how much more work she needed to do to achieve a higher grade. When she occasionally submitted lower level work for her (as well all do at times) she would begin to spiral out of control with worry about failing.

This year, without grades she is a much happier/positive person and is now finally enjoying the learning process. Recently we talked about how this year was different than last year and she told me it all comes down to not having the pressure of grades. Several times last year she came to me stressed that she lost marks (in this case 10%) on her writing piece (she got 90%) and how she could get to 100%. This past week she laughed about how much pressure she felt to get a certain grade and how she hated school because of it. Without grades she now focuses on the feedback provided and is finally able to celebrate the good that she is doing and focus on improving her skills to be ready for high school next year.

Student B is a hard working student who has academic and anxiety challenges. She explained to me that she was dumb. That it took her longer to complete her work than the ‘normal kids’ and that her grades proved that she is simple not smart and never will be. There is nothing that makes a teacher feel worse than to hear these words…you all know what I mean. She began this year with a high level of anxiety and little hope for her learning future. Her challenges with anxiety began to spiral out of control and led to some significant challenges.

After spending a significant amount of time working with her to understand the nature of her fears we realized it led back to her perception of her peers and the crushing finality of grades. Removing grades from the equation resulted in a fairly quick change in her feelings. As she expresses to me, I can now see past the number as there isn’t one. There are things I can do really well, but I did not know this before. I still struggle and get frustrated by things like math, but now I can usually get it by working hard.

In the span of a couple of months, Student A and Student B have reduced their anxiety levels about school in general, developed a more open mindset about learning in general (especially at school) and are much more invested in the learning process.

Elimination of grades = decreased anxiety

Elimination of grades = increase in positive self-esteem

Elimination of grades = focus on mastering skills, not achievement of a number

Elimination of grades = a more open mindset to learning

***Any students who wish to know their numeric grade on an assignment may simply ask me and I will provide it. No one has asked in the past 6 months.

Learning or Achievement

“Grades are history” is a profound way of thinking about the difference between achievement (the past) and learning (the present and future).

This one of those ideas I wish I had articulated myself…thanks @pmillerscdsb!

I could not agree with you more.

Not Yet

What is our purpose? Our why?

Most people want to say learning. Student learning that carries on beyond the classroom. But the further you get from the student desk, the harder it is to say that, and mean it. Get far enough away from the student desk and it sometimes becomes less about learning and more about achievement. More about standardized scores, grades and averages. When you can’t see and hear and experience student learning directly, it is easy (and understandable) to look for measures to know how well our children are learning. The trouble is that these measures are limited in what they can tell you, just as they are limited in what they can tell the student.

Achievement is about the past.
Learning is about the present and future.

Students often see grades as an end point. Grades are history. Whether it’s an A or a D, a grade says “That’s it…

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