Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Inherent Problem with Education focused on Grades, Success, or Achievement

In his article "The Cost of Overemphasizing Achievement," Alfie Kohn offers a well-written, sharply-clear explanation of why a focus on achievement, test scores, or even just "good grades" tends to be counterproductive in the classroom.
Specifically, research indicates that the use of traditional letter or number grades is reliably associated with three consequences.
First, students tend to lose interest in whatever they’re learning. As motivation to get good grades goes up, motivation to explore ideas tends to go down. Second, students try to avoid challenging tasks whenever possible. More difficult assignments, after all, would be seen as an impediment to getting a top grade. Finally, the quality of students’ thinking is less impressive. One study after another shows that creativity and even long-term recall of facts are adversely affected by the use of traditional grades.

 I can say that my 9 years of middle/high school classroom experience lines up exactly with Kohn's critique of a grades-driven educational system.  Nothing annoys me more than hearing, "Mrs Ramey, will this be on the test?" as the prelude question to every lecture, discussion, discovery, or investigation.

As Kohn points out, kids are too smart to thirst for knowledge when their educational landscape is ruled by quantifiable expectations, benchmarks, percentage grades, and the like. I watch very smart students every day choose the easy way out because they see no reason to jeopardize their God-given leg-up in the achievement game.  As a rule, I use a vast mix of assessments in my classroom if possible, and different kinds of projects or test quesions offer each student either challenge or relief once in a while.  But it's tough to come up with great ideas all the time.

Parents and teachers must work together to combat the educational culture that ranks "achievement" and "success as measured by a number" as more important than effort, real learning, challenge, and curiosity. The most influential and effective agents of cultural change down through history have rarely been "good students."

Read Kohn's article. It's relatively short, and you don't have to be an education expert to grasp his point.

Cross-posted to Xanga

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

To Dream of Love

Love is an overused word. We love our children, love our dogs, love to laugh, and love peanut butter. Having a lover can be beautiful and pure or terrible and wrong. A girl who always loves her little brother may not always like him. We hurt the ones we love. We live for love. We die for love. 

Love is a broad and slippery concept. Romantic love alone is as complex as any field of human endeavor and has inspired more expression of form and feeling than any other subject in history. But who can define it?

If love is pure reason we find it cold; if pure emotion we call it foolhardy. Love is magic, we admit, but it doesn’t pay the bills, we warn smitten young people. Indeed, the river of advice for would-be romantics flows endless despite the fact that no sane person claims to have love figured out.

The questions are as timeless as they are vexing: What is it to be in love? How do you find the right one to marry? Can you keep love living through years of life’s changes and strain? We try to lead our young people through the maze, but ultimately they must find their own way. We can only love them.

New Covenant School maintains a theater element as part of its rhetoric program because there is no better way to have vicarious experience—to learn wisdom in a deep way, by embodying the words and actions of others and then reflecting on them for years to come, comparing them to one’s own life experience and slowly unfolding the lessons in full. Hearing wisdom in a lecture once or twice can’t compare with making it part of you forever. 

New Covenant School is excited to present A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare. Perhaps Shakespeare’s most loved comedy, Dream examines the foibles of love with wit, wry humor, and ingenious irony. Is love a question of conquest? Obedience? Impulse? Magic? To use Shakespeare’s words, does a good marriage come from love or reason, from fancy or constancy? Or are we mortals all bound to make fools of ourselves in the pursuit of true love?