I give the boy a four out of four. Yes, fours in all categories.

25 Oct

Except for coming home and being accused of inadequacy, stupidity, and patheticness at home, today was a great day. Took off to a coffee shop to for a writing break to continue the trend.

I taught sixth graders today, and–oh joy–I was the moderator of student presentations and discussions, and so glad to be trusted with this, instead of just showing a video or giving a fill-in-the -blank assignment. Was warned in the sub notes that it might get out of hand, that I should watch out for this or that students trying to get us off on tangents, but instead it was a great experience, for us all, I think. Four out of five classes were packed with short presentations of current events. The gunner on Ottawa’s Parliament Hill, The Ebola outbreak, saving animals through zoo donations, making rubber out of dandelion sap, X-raying Egyptian mummies, and time travel.

I saw greatness in the making. Trevor, his real name, so there be a sort of record, presenting on time travel and the Grandfather Paradox, and fielding questions from student after student, deftly deflecting questions like “Why are you so smart?” “How can you understand this stuff?” and comments such as “I just want to say, you’re a genius.” Not only did he grasp the ideas he was talking about, he hooked the audience, explained things in reasonable terms, left them wondering, aspiring to know more.

I tried to use that to get the kids thinking about how being truly interested in something makes you pursue it, learn  way more about it than anyone else, be smarter. That always they have some sort of choice in their school experience, to use school work as like intellectual food to build them up, and not see school as the thing people make them do and therefore is to be resisted or coasted through on a minimum of effort. Encouraged them to take advantage, look for flexibility in the work, negotiate with teachers so they could pursue what was most intriguing, the way it was most meaningful.

Now I wish I’d included something about what to do about good grades. As in, when you always get top grades based on achieving “competency” or “exceeding standard,” where is the incentive to excel? Wouldn’t it be better to keep changing the standards for each kid, as in “You passed standard, kid–you’re ready for a higher standard.” Maybe bring out the rubric in cases where things are going poorly, like medicine when sickness comes. But that would entail a good deal of trust in teachers, in their subjective analysis of achievement and progress.


Posted by on October 25, 2014 in Education, Places & Experiences


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11 responses to “I give the boy a four out of four. Yes, fours in all categories.

  1. jdawgsrunningblog

    October 26, 2014 at 6:00 am

    Maybe it’s about the experiencing of something—more than the achievement around it? Why must everything be measured in order to be justified–and is anything really that static anyways? Sometimes I’m a 2 and sometimes a three…and back to a 2 the next day–and what of it–that really robs one of the ability to actually connect with what one is doing in the moment.

    • toesinthedirt

      October 27, 2014 at 9:54 pm

      Yes, it should be. There was no need or place for any kind of scoring or assessment that day, and I was glad the teacher didn’t expect it. What I mean about “what to do about good grades” is how do you keep kids from paying attention to them and thinking they matter, comparing with one another, or even (as I did as a kid) devaluing the learning activities and assignments because they are “required” and would be graded. When I mentioned to the students the natural resistance we often put up to what we feel is coercion, there were nods across the room.

  2. jdawgsrunningblog

    October 28, 2014 at 5:44 am

    Well said and well done….rock on!

  3. LeRoy Pick

    October 29, 2014 at 8:58 am

    I had the luxury in school that my father always concentrated on whether I knew and understood the work rather than the high grades. It’s not that he didn’t appreciate good grades, he just felt that learning the subject properly was more important than rote regurgiation and memorization. My mother, being the more educated of my parents and a teacher by training, naturally concentrated on the grades.

    Unfortunately, grades are how we keep score. It would be great if we could come up with a way to measure competence, knowledge, and ability without having to resort to testing and marks, but I haven’t seen it yet.

    Everything you do will be measured, consciously or unconsciously, by those around us and by society as a whole, so coming up with the correct rubrics and measurement criteria is vital. Let’s face it, you’ll “grade” somebody else’s driving skills when you observe their behaviours, your skills as a gardener will be reflected by how succesfully you can get things to grow or how tidy and well organized the plant species are, the examples can go on forever.

    All that said, you *know* a good learning experience when you see it, and so does most everyone else. The “nods across the room” are the “ayes” in favour. It might be the warmest feeling I know when you see that dawning of recognition in the expressions of your audience.

    Going back to my father for a moment, he wasn’t a great student in school mainly because he didn’t see the purpose of most of what he did. (“I didn’t like algebra because I didn’t care what x equalled”). He always presented himself as proof that marks don’t mean a thing.

    He graduated grade 12 with an 85% in math on the provincial exam, an exceptional result. However, he failed every math test he took that year, most of them spectacularly (his average, prior to that exam, was 27%.) However, he picked up a book and studied for 3 hours the day before the provincial exam. Again in his words: “I studied 5 axioms; 4 of them were on the exam. 80% – right there.”

    Modern testing methods usually preclude students getting that lucky, but it is food for thought.

    • toesinthedirt

      October 29, 2014 at 7:18 pm

      Looks like a balance of your parents different perspectives was passed on to you, so you hold a creative tension about grades that’s probably best for you.
      I felt Mrs. Fancey’s dislike also, though sounds like you got the brunt. I also was surprised that I got streamed into D3 in 7th grade (switched to D2 when my parents complained at my request), which as supposedly “the same as D1.” Still there was a stigma. And I was separated from all my girlfriends, which at that age was very traumatic.

      One way to measure competence or mastery is to really know the kids, which is only possible if the teacher doesn’t have too many to supervise. If only the age groups didn’t have to move in lock step with one another, one could work toward mastery in everything important before moving on, as well as move on when mastery is attained rather than getting put in a holding pattern while others take more time.

      • LeRoy Pick

        October 30, 2014 at 7:05 am

        Did you ever have Mr. Foster as a teacher in CEC? He taught history/social studies and concentrated on the higher grades. He was a firm advocate of what you wrote, that the best way to grade/measure students was to know them and really understand their processes and answers. That was also a part of his argument against provincial exams because they were primarily based on short-form answers that were easy to mark but left little or no room for the students true skills to show through. There was also the problem of teachers “teaching to the exam” rather than teaching the subject because the teachers’ and schools results would be measured by how well the students did in these exams.

        I don’t think I ever knew that you were initially streamed to B3 instead of B2 for grade 7. (Remember, we were “B”‘s in grade 7; the “D” stream was grade 9 at SCHS.) While the difference between B1 and B2 was relatively small, B2 to B3 was a more significant delta; there’s no way you should have been streamed to B3! While I’d have never said you and I were particularly close in elementary, you wouldn’t believe how comforting it was to have you and Craig streamed into B2 at the same time that I was. Having been streamed into the same group as you two, maybe it wasn’t so bad after all.

  4. LeRoy Pick

    October 29, 2014 at 9:40 am

    I re-read your last paragraph, and while I understand the point about grading folks to their own standard, let me share my experience with you.

    I found school easy in the early going. In grade 1, I completed the math curriculum in January so they moved me to grade 2 math, and I completed that. I scored a perfect mark on every aptitude test I wrote. By grade 2 I was reading at the grade 5 level, and for math I was sent to the grade 3 class to do math with them, and matched the highest achieving kids in that class.

    When I moved to Nova Scotia at the start of grade 3, I was skipped over grade 3 directly into grade 4 since I’d already completed the math and language criteria (an offense for which Mrs. Fancy, our grade 4 teacher, never forgave me).

    In those days, our report cards were pretty simple: exceptional, satisfactory, not satisfactory, fail.

    Despite all of these achievements, I never once was given an “exceptional” mark on any report card. It always perplexed me. I had friends who didn’t have the achievements that I did and weren’t as smart as I was – to my way of evaluating it – but some of them had pushed themselves to try to “stay with me” in those early days and had achieved “exceptional” marks on their report cards, while I had a row of “satisfactory” marks. On at least one occasion, I received an “unsatisfactory” when I fell short of some level that I had been expected to attain, despite having matched the achievements of my peers.

    By grade 5, I had given up. Satisfactory was all I could do, so why bother trying to go further? It wasn’t until grade 7 when things had *obviously* started to go off the rails (“B2? I’m not in B1?!?!?”) that I finally picked myself back up and started to work, but even then my work habits never fully recovered.

    So, grading to a different standard? I don’t know if you could say I’m proof that it doesn’t work, but, having been graded to a different standard, I can say it can crush your self esteem – usually with a little help from your “friends”.

    Taking a step back, though, and giving it a real evaluation, I guess you could say that so long as it was *obvious* that I was being graded to a different standard – doing grade 3 math in grade 2, skipping grade 3 altogether would be examples – it worked, at least to some extent. Every time I vaulted a new hurdle and achieved some wondrous accomplishment, I pushed for the next (and my ego inflated to match, of course). When the accomplishments stopped being obvious, or, worse still, I was actively punished for them (Fancy hated everything about me, make no mistake, and never forgave an “outsider” from competing with her chosen favourites) it became a huge disincentive.

  5. LeRoy Pick

    October 29, 2014 at 11:01 am

    I should also mention that the first sentence is a bit disturbing, too. Did you deserve any of those accusations?

    Initially I was hoping that it was your kids rather than your spousal unit that hit you with that but, taking a moment to think about it, I hope those accusations come from someone you *don’t* know. Then you can excuse the harshness as simple ignorance.

    It’s a shame you have to “run to a coffee shop” to derive comfort.

    • toesinthedirt

      October 29, 2014 at 7:21 pm

      Definitely I deserve them in comparison with the mythical “other people’s parents” who do everything for their kids, don’t require them to do chores or take a bus across town occasionally, never turn up late, never forget things, give them money for lattes, etc. So I don’t take it too hard. Just have to work on listening to the messages underneath, and inviting my emotionally-charged child to calm down and communicate more respectfully.

      • LeRoy Pick

        October 30, 2014 at 7:44 am

        I’m in the fortunate position that, in comparison to the parents of my kids friends’, we stand up well in every way my kids measure us (or so they tell us)

        I have what I call “duck days”, where whatever my kids hit me with, it just rolls like “water off a duck’s back”. I can take whatever pressures and tensions they have, along with the abuse they hurl, and just calmly shrug it off while still providing them the support they need.

        Unfortunately, I also have volcano days, where any signs of disrespect on their part results in a rapid escalation, which may or may not end well.

        Then there’s option 3: a “duck day” where I believe that I’ll get the best results by acting the “volcano”. Sometimes the child in question just needs a proverbial mirror to realize they’re out of control. Each child requires different handling, and, in their own way, have earned different levels of respect and consideration from the parent.

      • toesinthedirt

        October 30, 2014 at 9:57 am

        Fortunately I receive appreciation too from my kids–for trusting them, for example. Ironically the daughter who complains at having to take the bus also commended me in the beginning for trusting her to be able to handle taking the city bus, unlike a friend’s mom, whom I convinced that at age sixteen a fifteen minute bus ride to swim practice was preferable to us carpooling across town every day.


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