Friday, 22 December 2017

Learning and/vs Grades

One of the things that I love about working within an academic calendar is that the year is made up of 4-month semesters, each with a beginning and an end. The beginning offers opportunity for a fresh start each semester and at the end I am inspired to reflect on the previous 4 months and think about what the next 4 months might look like.

As I think about next semester I am thinking about our students, about LEARNING, and about facilitating learning. This comes on the heels of the hours spent assessing assignments, projects and calculating grades: percentages, letter grades and GPAs. I am sometimes conflicted when it comes to values of learning and development, and how we define achievement. We calculate a grade based on demonstrated achievement, but does that grade always accurately reflect the learning that took place? The system can be viewed as performance-based and as such some students are primarily concerned with what they need to complete in the short term, in order to achieve a passing grade and be allowed to continue to the next level, I think in such a case students sometimes miss seeing learning as a continual process where one level builds to the next and where a solid foundation is important in the long term.

Particularly in the last couple of weeks of classes we sometimes hear ”what do I have to do to pass?” Happily, with one student I was able to shift this question into an opportunity of discussing “what still needs to be learned to be prepared for the next level?” The student was motivated and in the end we were both satisfied with what she learned through those final activities. However, due to previous circumstances in the semester, the final grade assigned does not reflect the overall learning and development that took place. By the same token, some students who chose to do the minimum to pass, often are left with gaps in their knowledge and skill, which leaves them with an unstable foundation as they continue in the next level.

As I think about goals for the next semester, I hope to encourage students to value learning by modeling my own belief in the value of learning and by creating a space that is conducive to such by fostering an environment where it is safe to make mistakes (and to learn from them); where inquiry and curiosity are encouraged and celebrated; and where learners are encouraged to work together to solve problems. I also hope to support students to break through the barrier of where they think their current potential is and establish a momentum of learning and development that continually brings them confidently to the next level.  

In the meantime, I plan to enjoy the holidays with loved ones, get plenty of fresh air and be ready to serve students in the new year.  Happy holidays!

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