“What if we recognized and built on learners’ strengths?”
It’s a simple question, and it seems easy enough to do, but it forces me to think about this box within which we are innovating. I can’t help but feel like it’s a bit crowded in here. Do you feel it? Maybe we should push those walls out just a little bit; what do you think?
I absolutely understand that we can’t overhaul the system, but we also can’t afford to use that system as the excuse to shy away from new and better ways of educating.
This MOOC is all about communicating, sharing ideas, and learning from one another so that we can all be better learners, and in turn, guide our students to more meaningful learning as well. If I innovate over here, and you innovate over there, and someone else innovates between us, we’re bound to create enough energy and excitement and possibility that the box will be forced to open.
George’s comment about grading and reporting in chapter 7 struck me as a box-opening type of statement:
“I think we spend too much time documenting what students know and not enough time empowering them to invest in their own learning and helping them understand their strengths and areas of growth.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about the ways in which we communicate progress to students, and I can’t help but think that grades are an outdated mode of reporting. When I think about grades, I think about one of my favorite TED talks. Chimamanda Adichie discusses the danger of a single story and the ways that limited exposure can be detrimental to our understanding of ourselves and our world.
As a child, Adichie mostly read British stories even though she grew up in Nigeria, and so when she wrote, her characters were more like the characters she read about rather than the people living around her. “What this demonstrates, I think,” she explains, “is how impressionable and vulnerable we are in the face of a story, particularly as children.”
When she was finally able to read books by African writers, her thinking shifted: “I realized that people like me…could also exist in literature.”
I worry that sometimes our “underperforming” students feel that already their identities have been set for them. They feel that school is not a place “for” them because their interests and passions or ways of learning might not be represented there, so they get by without getting excited. They’ve been given access to resources that might only elicit mediocre responses from them, and so, they are awarded with mediocre marks.
“So that is how to create a single story,” Adichie explains. “Show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become.”
Do we want to create mediocre people who see themselves, sadly, in a single percentage? Or do we want students to know deeply that there is not just this one, single story of who they are in their learning — that they are, in fact, multifaceted and multi-talented in ways different from the student sitting next to them?
As Adichie points out, children are impressionable. It’s important that we take seriously the ways in which they develop their identities, and while I think that sometimes grades can certainly boost a student’s confidence, there are also often times that grades don’t accurately reflect what a student can do. Grades can tear a student down and damage him or her in ways that can have lasting negative impacts.
I don’t think we want to tell our students a single story of themselves. Instead, “what if we recognized and built on learners’ strengths?” Let’s push a little on the walls of this box.