In last week’s blog, I shared a story about a podcast on Trader Joe’s that opened my eyes to a new way of thinking about the relationship between teachers and students. What if we could realize that we are on the same side with students, and not in an us vs. them paradigm?
We’ve all seen and maybe even had a teacher who was pontificating in their classroom, as if this was a fiefdom where they decide who passes and who fails. That is an us vs. them mentality that doesn’t come close to serving what should be our mutual (teachers and students) mission: to learn new stuff.
The first pitfall in this philosophy came to me quickly. Often, my students don’t really want to learn what I’m teaching. (History often gets a bad rap as a least favorite subject.) They want a grade. But why? I think they’ve been conditioned—certainly by the time they come to me—that that is the situation in school. They do work and I give grades for that work.
But that isn’t how I feel. My students so often said, “you gave me a B” to which I replied, “you earned a B. I don’t give grades.” That attitude was infuriating to some I imagine, but their consternation is indicative of the paradigm in which they’ve grown up with respect to a transactional education.
But what if learning were the goal, and not grades?
What if we were working to make sure that students mastered skills and knowledge upon which they build other skills and knowledge, and at the end we only needed to assess to what extent they gained such skills or knowledge.
I know we in Putnam City have moved further down this path since I was in the classroom with standards-based grading. Teachers and students work together to assess on a scale of 0 to 5 whether or not they have mastered the skill. Does this make them more interested in learning? I don’t know, but it does lend itself to a team atmosphere for the teacher and student.
There seems to be no real way to get away from using a letter grade system in college, though I know some schools have tried. Colleges rely on GPA for entrance, scholarships, work study, etc., so I suppose it still has its place.
Or does it? Some teachers are running no grade classrooms. This is a thing in education, where the focus is on self-evaluation and careful observation of student effort to determine learning and mastery. Talk about disruption to the education system!
If that is the logical conclusion of a situation that brings students and teachers together as a learning team, then maybe it’s the way to go. Getting a little closer to that attitude is what made Trader Joe’s successful, so why not us?