Tag Archives: student learning

The ‘A student’

“Labels are for filing. Labels are for clothing. Labels are not for people.”                                         -Martina Navratilova

Over the years I have encountered the label ‘A student’ in a variety of situations. Students identify themselves with it, parents use it, even teachers talk about students by using this label. When I was younger I thought of myself as an ‘A/B student’. But what does it really mean?

Let’s start with the multifaceted composition of an A. Does the letter indicate that the student achieves at a high academic level? Or, does it connote that the student is compliant and follows all the rules? Could it be that a student has shown so much growth over a marking period that the teacher wants to reward it? Grades get muddied so often in the educational world that many times we don’t know what has elicited an A.

Letter grade labels can become tied to students’ identities. The label is a part of who they are and it can define them both in and out of the classroom. For these students As are what should appear at the end of every marking period for every class. But what happens when an ‘A student’ gets a B? or even a C? This is a crushing blow and can feel like they have failed. How do ‘A students’ react to struggle, frustration, and failure (which to them does not necessarily mean a grade of F)? For true learning to happen, these are part of the process. Learning is uncomfortable at times. Often the process begins with making mistakes, having misunderstandings, and working over time to develop proficiency.

Parents attach an ‘A student’ label as a source of pride. They at times talk very openly about their children’s grades and put the label out as a sign of excellence. But is it a sign of excellence? And if so, what type of excellence? I go back to the idea that an A can represent so much more than academic achievement and we may not know what has contributed to it. This also creates stress for students. When they hear how proud their parents are about the As, they feel as if anything less would be unacceptable. Don’t get me wrong, there is reason to be proud as a parent when kids are successful, but we need to move away from labels and focus on student learning.

Let’s consider the converse situation. If a child is labeled an ‘F student’, how do they feel? Do they believe they can move up? Letter grade labels have the impression of being fixed and in turn, hinder motivation. The ‘A student’ perceives they are doing just fine the way they are, and the ‘F student’ feels as if there is no way to move up and grow. Have you ever tried to remove a mailing label from a magazine? They don’t come off easily and it is the same for our students.

To turn this around, learning environments need to be safe places while students progress to proficiency. This journey has potholes, bumps, wrong turns as well as an achievable destination. A safe environment sans labels with one goal – to meet the learning objectives. A safe environment with a teacher who models growth mindset and sets high expectations for all students.

For me, it took a long time to break away from my label of ‘A/B student’. It defined me and I’m sure I could have gotten more out of my classes if I didn’t rely on being ‘good enough’. Let’s remember that labeling files or clothing is acceptable, but labeling people is not.  We all learn, we all strive for growth, and we are all capable of success.

 

Fulfilling the promise

I wrote a blog post earlier this year about my promise to start tough conversations in regard to grading reform. I am happy to say that I am working hard to fulfill that promise and help to move others forward. All the while I continue to learn myself about how to make grades a healthy part of the learning process. In my perfect world, grades would disappear, but I live in a reality where letters must be used as a reporting mechanism. As I write this post, I recommit myself to work toward this goal and not be afraid of the difficult dialogues that inevitably occur when approaching this very personal topic for educators.

I have moved into a leadership role of sorts in my new school district. I am an instructional coach who thankfully is not a part of the evaluation process. My district has moved to Standards Based Learning and Grading at the elementary level, and will change over at the middle schools (including mine) next school year. This is a huge transition, and I want to ease it as much as possible throughout the year. I have been welcomed so whole-heartedly into this learning community and am devoted to work with my new colleagues to improve instructional practice.

This week something occurred to me…my journey with healthy grading practices has become our journey. I am not alone in charting this course, yet I know I will carry a piece of the leadership for this initiative. I am so proud of the district and staff for deciding to embark on this voyage, and feel ready to serve in whatever capacity necessary. I have so much respect and admiration for my new colleagues, their commitment to student learning is visible in every nook and cranny of the school.

I bring my experiences, my knowledge, and my resources to share. There is so much power in the words, “I have been there.” I will be able to connect with their successes and failures along the way. I can talk them through problems and concerns. I am able to calm fears and reassure everyone that this is a work in progress and it will change and improve with each year of implementation.

Our motto is “Engage, Inspire, Empower.” The transition to Standards Based Learning and Grading will no doubt challenge us to the core as educators. I find comfort in the fact that I have already seen the strength of the staff and I am confident they are prepared for this undertaking. Grading reform will allow our students to engage more completely, to become inspired to learn for a lifetime, and will empower them to take charge and own their learning. We will be able to communicate learning goals and determine paths to achieve mastery in a clear, concise manner. We will use feedback to let students know what we value most in the classroom. We will accurately report achievement, habits of work, and growth in a meaningful way.

To say I am excited to transform my journey into our journey is an understatement. When I made the promise to promote healthy grading in any way possible, I had no idea I would be given this opportunity in a new district. I have been given an avenue to fulfill my promise, and I will not take it for granted. Here’s to an awesome year of growth, reflection and tough conversations in the name of student learning.

I will continue to post and share about our growth, trials, tribulations, and success along the way!