On Learning, Growth & Grades

ILS students have reached the midway point of the 3rd Quarter of their academic year, which means that mid-quarter reports will be shared with parents this week. While grades are simply one type of teacher feedback for student to understand their progress and growth in any given subject, students may sometimes wrestle with how best to apply this feedback in their on-going learning process.

Mr. Shawn Barnett, ILS Upper School Latin and History teacher, shares a brief insight into this struggle in which students engage as they attempt to put the right value on grades in the learning process. He encourages parents to use graded work (or mid-quarter grades) as an opportunity to further encourage and engage students in an ongoing dialogue to deepen their understanding their own learning, mastery and growth. As students grow and mature, parents and teachers work together to help them appreciate a variety of feedback and apply it appropriately to their own growth and learning.

Occasionally between classes, I'll see students rummage through their mailboxes to get their hands on the most recent graded quiz or test, scan quickly for a letter or number, and raise a shout of jubilation or sulk crestfallen while wadding up the assignment to chuck it into the waste bin.  Children, like we ourselves, often take good things and twist their use.  Grades are good for a few reasons.  They give students feedback and a means to evaluate their own mastery and growth.  To struggle on a Latin quiz and get a C minus and then buckle down, memorize vocabulary, and master the old concepts while new concepts pile on all to get a B minus--that is an accomplishment! The grade is a diagnostic tool, and graded work can be a means of understanding our errors and correcting them.  Yet, for many students this tool, this means to an end, is turned into the end itself.  The grade, usually an A, becomes the goal whether or not that A has been obtained with laborious study or whether it was worth a continental.  As a student, I often fell prey to this stinking thinking myself.  It's unfortunate.

Parents, however, are uniquely positioned to put the grade in its place and to value it accordingly.  To do this, however, requires the masterful art of conversation.  To do this requires that the graded work not find its way to the waste bin, but to the students "red folder," the communicator, and from there to the kitchen table.  Students should be taking their work home and showing it to you.  Looking over work together can be a springboard for any number of important conversations about learning and growth, possibly tough conversations, and can also give students a chance to review and share with you what they are learning.