Ten days behind us. Here are three “from-the-inside-looking-out” thoughts on the progress of Project 180.
Influence is greater than power. I no longer have the power of grades to wield and wave in front of my kids. In many classrooms, either directly or indirectly, grades are used to motivate students academically and control them behaviorally. I no longer brandish that sword. I am armed only with the connections I have made with my students and the culture I have created with them. Throughout my day, I often find myself wishing for witnesses (outsiders looking in) to observe our learning community, to see that kids can and will perform academically and manage themselves behaviorally in the absence of traditional grades. But it doesn’t happen by accident. It comes down to what it’s always come down to–with or without grades. Relationships. Establish this and all else will follow.
Kids will do work–hard work–that is not for points. I have more “complete” practice in my grade book at this time of the year than I ever did in the past. Granted, the kids still know that I report completed practice to parents and that may play a part in their motivation; additionally, they may still not trust that they have the freedom to not do the work if they choose, so they do it still either out of habit or fear. Either way, at present they are doing the work I give them. Yesterday, they diligently dove into their writing and reading stories not only working hard but also worrying about the outcome, seemingly intent on creating quality, not just doing it to get done. Fingers-crossed, with a knock on wood, I believe I’m on my way to bucking the belief that kids won’t work without grades. Perhaps worth noting, my seniors, with whom I still maintain a traditional grading approach, have far more missing assignments than my sophomores with gifted A’s. Of course, there are a lot of factors to consider and it is not a direct comparison, but I am getting more out of my sophomores, much more–without grades to motivate them. Just sayin’.
Stressed brains aren’t our best brains. There’s certainly a research base out there to support that stress impairs learning. But I don’t really need science to back up what I already know. We should not use stress to force kids into compliance, to create a fear of failure if we want them to learn best. That is not to say that all stress is bad. Performance anxiety presents itself even to the most prepared. It’s normal. But that stress is generally born out of one’s desire to do his or her best. Yesterday, there was indeed a measure of stress around the room as kids attempted to make a first impression on me with their writing. As the end of the period approached, stress was on the rise as it became evident that not all were going to finish. So, I stepped in, pushing the “pressure-release valve,” and promised more time. Why wouldn’t I? This is important. I want them to make their best attempt at the challenges I place in front of them. And, if and when I can give more time, I most certainly will. Teaching is not only about challenging kids; it’s also about supporting them. Real challenges require support. Support alleviates stress. Less stress equals better learning. Another worthy note, I asked the kids how they thought things were going with the approach, and the number one response was less stress–in and out of class. Music to my ears. Truly.
Overall, I am very pleased with the progress of the project. Thank you for the support. Knowing you are watching–even if from a distance–helps me sustain the necessary strength to manage the self-inflicted stress from this mad journey. Thank you. Happy Thursday.