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 . . . ?