January 24, 2012

Coaching grades is a mysterious practice

As a new semester and marking period began at my school, there were lots of "fresh start" lectures by teachers. Even I engaged in this activity, cajoling my more reluctant learners to reflect on the prior nine weeks and consider how they might improve in the second half of the year.

At the end of the day, a colleague was regaling me with an analogy she used with her students, aimed at enlightening them about their own performance during the second quarter of school. This science teacher compared her students to various fish. Some students were the bottom-feeders, doing very little to survive; others were sharks, feeding hungrily on every learning opportunity. She was particularly proud of strolling around her classroom and pointing out which students were sharks, a joke that I'm certain amused some while frustrating others.

As a language arts teacher, I appreciated the metaphor. Considering her anecdote later, though, I contemplated this mysterious practice of goading students into becoming sharks, nudging out the weaker fish, in order to get the few good grades that might be available. Why, I thought, don't all "fresh start" discussions simply encourage students to take charge of their learning, to increase their efforts.

Shouldn't we want our students to want to enter each grading period thinking about learning, rather than thinking about a letter on a report card?