The other day in class, I asked my students, “What do you want to get out of this class?”
I meant – what do you want to focus on today and what do you want to leave with today, but it just didn’t come out quite like that.
One hand went up, and the response was, “I would really like to get an A in this class.”
I chuckled softly and asked if anyone had anything else to add.
Another hand went up, and the response was, “I’d really be happy with a B in this class, even just a C+.”
And shortly after that, another student told me the grade they want “to get.”
I was baffled how no one seemed to think these were ridiculous answers. The norms of our culture, and the upgrading setting in particular, were prevalent to me more than ever. These people, in the end, want to get their grade, and move on. They want to forget about anything they learned, and move on with the interesting things in their lives. Fair enough, I get that.
But what baffles me more is that HOURS go into this! HOURS go into attaining a goal of a letter grade that doesn’t reflect in any specific way what was learned, and how that person as a whole has been enriched in some particular way as a citizen of society.
This is the system.
The system places value on this letter grade. It does not place value on:
- the social skills developed within collaborative problem solving activities
- the processes generated within the act of solving a problem
- the new found ability to explain a mathematical concept to a peer
- the insights garnered into why society has engaged in mathematics
- the time and dedication committed to understanding complicated mathematics
I have seen evidence of all of the above in my students while they have worked together on problems in groups, on whiteboards and off whiteboards. There is a community in the classroom that I see and feel when I enter it. A community where students feel comfortable walking across the room to check in on someone they care about and see if they are understanding the content, and where students listen to their peers and have the patience to hear them out before explaining their perspective on a problem.
How do these things get valued more?
It is my hope that throughout the term, the focus on the grade will become overshadowed by the focus on learning – as a process rather than as a product.
I fear, however, that it is very possible the pressures and demands of the system may ultimately prevail.
. . . unless we chip away at the system . . . ?
6 thoughts on ““I want to get an A””
Just yesterday a student who had me semester one (which finished recently) came into my room asking about her final grade. 91% I said. The disappointment in her face made my heart sink. All the great learning we did semester one didn’t seem to matter. This mark was just not enough for this student. Disappointing!
Looks like disappointing is contagious! I wonder what would have made her satisfied? I assume she had a number in her mind that she expected to hear…a number with no meaning – well it has some sort of meaning in her life, but definitely not a shared meaning between you and the student!
This reminds me of a sad story from my last school. At the time of the fall midterm a student asked if she could meet me after school to discuss her grade in my class. I told her I would be happy to meet but that I wanted to conversation to focus on her understanding of Calculus, not on her grade in Calculus. Her response was ‘Colleges know my grade in Calculus, they do not know what I understand’
Wow you were on top of where that conversation was going! Great idea to specify that you are willing to discuss understanding not the grade…but her response is so indicative of how systemic this issue is!
I have this conversation with my students regularly. I try to get them to focus on learning…then the grade will follow. If they focus on the grade, they never really learn and that has huge impacts down the road. Tough battle though.
It’s a moment when you feel everything you’ve built up collapses and it underpins everything.
LikeLiked by 1 person