Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Grading kids on how much they care?

Behavior, cooperation, participation and homework.

These are the factors that go into a grade in our middle school, evaluating a student's "work ethic."

It is an effort to separate the grade on an end product from the effort that went into it. Maybe it's an attempt to give kids who "under-perform" a chance to get credit for how hard they try. Maybe it's just a way of factoring in how seriously a student took the work, whether he/she was "mailing it in" or really working.

But I think it's a way of grading kids on how much they care.

So here's the irony: maintain schools that institutionally disregard who kids are when determining their course of study. Cope with the resulting disengagement by providing a grade system on how much/little they seem to care about the learning.

Kids work hard when the work matters to them. Since they are not choosing what they learn, with this system they not only have to learn stuff they don't care about, but receive a grade on how much they don't care about it.

Insult to injury.

Whose fault is it when a kid doesn't care? It's nobody's fault. The kid just doesn't care. Find out what matters to kids, what they know, what they love, what they are "experts" in, and let them direct their learning.

Stop worrying about whether kids are going to learn to read, write or do math if we allow them to pursue the learning that is most meaningful to them. A student who is engaged with the world around them in a way that matters to them is going to learn to read, write and do math.

Stop worrying that kids will not be able to hold down a job unless we teach them work ethic. The work world and school are two entirely different arenas. Adults have choice, even if choice is limited; and adults get a paycheck. I can't tell you how many times that has inspired me to learn what I didn't care about. But what the reward for kids when they are asked to do it?

Self-respect is what enables people to function in the work world. Self-respect comes in part from accomplishment. Accomplishment comes from doing work that truly matters.

Kids are powerless in the school system. We uphold this, then hand them our judgment.

Is anyone else seeing the irony here?


  1. "Accomplishment comes from doing work that truly matters", you say and I agree. Are you also saying we should abandon our responsibility to our children and let them run wild on the beach with "Piggy" pursuing only that which at the moment seems to matter. No, the darkness of the "Lord of the Flies" scares the hell out of me and should scare you. Words from an old rock song come to mind while reading your thoughts in print--
    "We don't need no education. We don't need no thought control. Teacher: Leave those kids alone!"
    Or maybe I am totally misinterpreting what you have to say. I hope so.

  2. When did I say kids should run wild on the beach? I'm saying, discover and honor kids for who they are, and provide support, time and resources to helping them become the people they want to be.

    This, instead of imposing something on them that they don't care about and grading them on whether they care.

    The idea that "pursuing only that which at the moment seems to matter" will result in a Lord of the Flies scenario is showing little respect for who kids are, and it's that lack of respect by adults that causes kids to lack self-respect.

    Even your wording, "seems to matter" shows that you think what is important to kids isn't really all that important. It's important to them, and if what's inside them leads to new doors opening and new avenues stretching in front of them, then we get what we really want: a society of learners who care about stuff.

  3. The problem with the way you present your thoughts, Lisa, is that you keep talking about "what kids care about" - as best I can tell - being the sole criterion upon which schools/curriculum should be based. I believe you don't really mean it that way, but many of us out here have a very hard time understanding how 200 individual kids in a school building can be left on their own to explore and learn what they need (in addition to want) to know without chaos and lack of learning.

    The other problem is your thought that the work world is separate from the school world. The latter leads to the former, whether it's planned or not. And although your work life may be fulfilling, many people's are not. They go to work, get it over with and get the paycheck. Other parts of their lives are the important ones, not the job part.

  4. Because people have a hard time picturing doesn't mean it doesn't work quite well. What you need to do is set outside your assumptions and do a little research. I've presented a lot here and others have presented more. But the traditional system doesn't even think it's worth looking into the issue of what matters to kids. Making them do what we think they need to do is all most adults care about.

    The work world is separate from the school world. When kids grow up and enter the work world they have rights that kids don't have, and that reward -- the paycheck -- is one that has more significance than you give it. Doing something in school that you don't care about just means you don't care about it. No reward, no satisfaction,just playing a game. Look around you. You're soaking in it. Kids are compliant to the best of their ability, but simple compliance isn't the best way to get kids to learn.

    I would have no problem bringing more aspects of the work world into school. Remember our friend John Dewey? Kids want to do real work with real satisfaction. Instead,they do work that has meaning that often escapes kids,that just prepares them for more school.

  5. @Nancy,

    There are many successful models that are built on what kids care about. It works. If you have a hard time understanding go visit one of the many schools that succeed with such a model so you can understand. Models include Big Picture, Democratic Schools, Reggio Emilia, Nuestra Escuela, North Star Teens, Schoolwide Enrichment, Montessori, etc. etc. etc.