It began with a simple question. “What is learning?” It continued as a period-long discussion about grading. I didn’t intend for it to take the entire hour, but the hands never stopped going up and the kids never quit talking. There was momentum in our moment, and I would have been a fool to stop it. So, I let the kids talk; I let the kids speak their truths. And why wouldn’t I? After all, it was their learning, their grades that we were talking about. Why I wouldn’t I let them speak? Why wouldn’t I listen?
They had two minutes to answer the what-is-learning question in their Journey Journals, and then I asked them to share near and far. Basically, the kids share with someone sitting close to them (near), and then they get up and share with someone not sitting close to them (far). It’s something I do to ensure that they are hearing different views. When all kids have returned to their seats, I then ask them what they heard. This is another thing that I do to ensure that kids are actually listening. After sharing, first, what they heard, I then let them add what they shared.
In general, most of their answers were predictable, “acquiring knowledge,” “learning from mistakes,” “having experiences,” etc. But some of their answers revealed other, less-predictable responses, “learning is living,” “it’s not memorizing something for a test,” “it’s different for each person,” “it’s not limited to school.” At the end, though we could identify some aspects of what learning is, we agreed that there was no one, simple answer. It’s complicated. Indeed.
I then asked them about the purpose of grades. Here, too, they offered some pat responses, ranging from “show what we learned” to “motivate us.” Amelia, offered, “to stress us out,” which was verified with a chorus of “uh-huh’s” and “knowing nods,” but that’s a post for another day. I want to share a different story.
Somewhere in the midst of our discussing “grades as motivation” in second period, Alyssa jumped onto the stage and shared a stirring sentiment, a simple truth full of wisdom. And I will share it in a moment, but first some context.
Alyssa is that kiddo who “bubbles.” She gushes enthusiasm and energy, and though she did not literally jump on the stage, when she speaks, it’s as if–always, as if. Beyond her animated gestures, she speaks in dashes, inserting stream-of-consciousness commentary whenever she shares, creating an engaging but dizzying experience for her audience. Earlier, during Smiles and Frowns at the beginning of the period, she had put on a one-girl, one-act play about her bad hair day, entertaining us, all her adoring fans. And whether she was inspired by our earlier appreciation of her performance or it just popped into her head (as things do), Alyssa decided to give us an encore. It was in regards to the role/impact of grades.
“Okay (purposeful pause), this is probably gonna sound stupid (we nodded and smiled in anticipation, remembering the bad-hair-day performance), but…”
“You know that scene in Wonder Woman where the guy puts on his watch and she asks him it is, and he tells her it’s a watch, that it tells time, that it tells him when to do things. And she replies. ‘So you let that little thing control you and what you do?'”
“Just like a watch, we let our grades define us and tell us what we can and can’t do, and when we can and can’t do them. We give such a little thing so much value when it really doesn’t have much at all. Sometimes, we need our grades, just like we need that watch. But sometimes we need to just put it under our sleeve and live in the moment.”
Encore, indeed. After a brief applause, I immediately asked Alyssa to capture what she had just said in her Journey Journal, for I knew I would want to share it this morning. And that’s how my day went yesterday. No, no one quite stole the show as our own little resident Wonder Woman, Alyssa, but all day long, kids moved me with their voices, their truths, their wisdom, a symphony for which I had the best seat in the house.
Today, we will finish the conversation, a conversation in which I, too, revealed a truth. Near the end, I asked kids to ask me what learning was. I humbly offered, “I am not sure.” But, I told them, I want to know. I want to know, so that when we come to the institutional intersections such as these (end of semester grades), I can do a better job of putting my finger on learning.
Along today’s trail we will…
…begin with Smiles and Frowns.
…finish grading conversation.
…begin our last “table talk” for the end of Night.
…reflect in our Journey Journals.
…end with a Sappy Sy Rhyme.
Happy Thursday, all. May you have some moments to hide your watch and just live today.
Do. Reflect. Do Better.