Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Grades, What Grades...?

The other day, I had a discussion with a student in my AP Chemistry class who is struggling with the grading process in this school. He was thinking that he should learn material because it was interesting to him. However, this year, which is his junior year, he is learning that school becomes looking at things that you might not find to be too interesting. He is a little discouraged because he is used to looking at course material in the context of wanting to learn it and not "to get ready for a test." I thought that this was what we wanted our students to do. (To seek the information because they wanted to know it not because they had to know it.) When I asked him why he thought school should be learning of information that is interesting to the learner, his response was that someone told him that college was this way. Wow, in college you get to study things that interest you? I thought that there were prerequisite courses that you had to "get out of the way". Wouldn't it be nice if all schooling was set up so that you were learning things that were intersting to you and not because someone else thought it was important? Do you think that students might pay more attention or be involved in constructing their learning if they were allowed to find something in a subject that was interesting to them? I find it interesting that I was having this conversation with a student when we, as a group of teachers, are having the same conversation.

The conversation progressed to a point where the student said he felt grades were detrimental to learning. When asked for explaination of his thoughts I found out that he felt grades were something that students were working towards. While this might be a good temporary goal for students he thought that the material would become secondary to the grade. I told him that, as a group of teachers, we are looking at how to overcome that. I think he felt excited to be a part of a school where we are asking these difficult questions. While we don't have the answers at least we are asking these and other difficult questions. (This might be why there are teachers who are struggling with what we are doing.) He also wanted to know why we were trying to take a college level class (AP Chem) and apply high school standards to it? I did not even know what to say to this.

The thing about these conversations is that they made me think about two big items.
1) How could we use grades to give feedback and show progress and not just as an end in themselves? (I am going to try using more of an AP scale, 0 to 5, in an elective that I teach.)
2) Where was I in high school? I think that I was trying to get through high school and was not asking why I needed to learn something. Are there other students who are asking these important questions about school and learning and grades? or is this young man a special case? Should we be asking them for help in designing material instead of jsut telling them?

That is a lot of thought conversation between a student and a teacher. (I will let you try to figure out who is who in this post. I mean the teacher and the student.)

1 comment:

Karl Fisch said...

Great post. For whatever reason, I think many of today's students are asking these kinds of questions where in the past only a very few did. Maybe it's due to the amount of information they're exposed to, or maybe it's due to a change in culture in schools - that it's more acceptable to ask those kinds of questions. I don't really know, but I think it's a good thing. And I think all of us sharing with our students that we are struggling with the same questions might help all of us find some solutions.