October 1, 2014

Is this for a grade?

When I'm not pounding like a maniac on the keyboard writing or trying to find someone who will pay me to write, I substitute teach. In my state, I can teach any grade short term, which is defined as less than 5 consecutive days.

I teach in two local districts and due to my daily schedule, usually stick to middle school and younger. I've discovered that with high school classes, I'm more or less a test or study hall monitor. I don't really get to learn or teach a thing. 

This week, I was substitute teaching middle school Social Studies. The classes were American History and World Civilization. I enjoy the refresher course in things learned in ages past. I remembered things I knew about Ancient Greece and Sacagawea. In some ways, it reminded me of the scene in the movie Big, when Tom Hanks played a 12 year old who became "big" overnight. He was at a dinner party and the host's son had a question about the three ships that Christopher Columbus sailed (Nina, Pinta, Santa Maria), and an adult pipes in about seeing the same documentary. 

As we reviewed a video and I passed out review sheets to compliment the video, several students piped up and asked "is this for a grade?" I paused. I honestly didn't know if it was for a grade or not. But in shock. I said, Does it matter? Would that change your quality of work? Would you not look for the right answers if it was?

I was not as stunned when the next class had the same question, and I quickly answered that I wasn't sure, but that at some point, it would be, so why not get a jump on what you need to know now?

The overriding concern with grades and scores reminded me of the changes in education. To be fair, grades have always mattered, it is how we could tell how much we had learned. It is a way for the teacher to know what they still need to teach. But the underlying tone that if the lesson wasn't for a grade, it wasn't important really struck me. Shouldn't all our work, whether we are in first grade, high school, college or life be done as if it mattered? As if we are being graded? As if we could assess what we knew and didn't know? 

It struck me as odd that students would gauge how hard they worked on whether that work would be measured. And if it wasn't going to be measured, it wasn't worth the work? Something got skewed in our educational system where we only teach what will be measured and we only work if we are going to measure it. 

To sit in a classroom with the opportunity to learn something new for free, what a gift! 
Or we could just hope that  someone who did learn about it makes a documentary.

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