After my classes today, I started thinking about this issue, of how to encourage students to not just do the bare minimum, but to go beyond that and to do their very best on any given task. In theory, grades should do that, I guess, but I don’t think it always does, and in classes like my middle school ones, where I have a set of minimum standards, most kids get A’s pretty easily.
An example. My 6th graders are using Google Sites to create web sites. Over the last few weeks, we’ve gathered some of the artifacts, written paragraphs, even conducted surveys for graphs to include. We are now in the process of putting it all together into a cohesive web site. We have just a couple of class periods left, but it’s actually a fair amount of time. I had a couple of students say, halfway through today’s class, “I’m done.” Yes, they have most of the elements I asked for, but they only just have them. Meanwhile other students are exploring gadgets, and including multiple pages, and finding links and are clearly going to work up until the very last second. This isn’t the only class where this kind of thing happens. I’m trying to figure out how I can get the “early finishers” to appreciate that putting more effort into something and working during the alloted time (instead of playing a game) is a good idea.
I think this is related somewhat to something Mark Guzdial pointed out in his blog today about teaching students “grit.” He was referring to a NY Times article that explores the character traits of students who are successful. It turns out that it’s not the straight A students, always, who succeed:
the students who persisted in college were not necessarily the ones who had excelled academically at KIPP; they were the ones with exceptional character strengths, like optimism and persistence and social intelligence
For some reason, I think that the students in my classes who push themselves, and who explore areas beyond what I’ve explained are the ones who fall into this category. There’s something about their willingness to take risks, to mess up, and to learn from that in order to get their best work done. I don’t think all of my “early finishers” are necessarily lazy. They simply do what they’re told and no more. I’m pretty sure I remember doing that myself sometimes.
What I’m talking about is not the high-pressure, jump through all the hoops kind of process that many students participate in, but a kind of pride in their work, whether it gets an A or not. Because there are no grades in life, and I want my students (and my own kids, of course) to focus on doing their best not on some arbitrary grade.