Staring at the computer screen, my mind wandered… I thought about thoughts unrelated to my day. Why is this screen so bright? Who made this computer? How did someone come up with the idea to make computers? Why do we rely on computers so much as a society? Then I started to think about other innovations and inventions, like the light bulb and sliced bread. How did they come about as inventions? Was it one person or many people who pondered those problems? Were they successful on the first try or did it take multiple attempts? As we know, the greatest inventions did not come about on the first try. Great inventors and scientists spent much time trying out ideas, failing, revising their work, and trying again. The best things in life take lots of practice, hard work, and failure. Just imagine, though, if people didn’t take risks and try new things, I might be typing this blog entry on a typewriter and submitting it to my local newspaper for publication. Risks, hard work, failure, and perseverance lead to innovation and change.
As a teacher, I see the value in this problem-solving formula. If I want my students to live meaningful lives in a global society, then I need to help them see how important risk taking, hard work, and perseverance are to creativity and innovation. I need my students to know how to solve problems they encounter in new and unique ways. I want my students to fail so that they learn how to rise up and overcome adversity. So, I teach my students this process day in and day out. I constantly challenge my students to think big and ask why. I want them to always be looking for how they can make this world a better, safer, and more effective place for all to live. I empower them to question everything. I want my students to find problems in their world and then devise and create viable solutions for them. I train my students to be change makers and innovators, because, as I’m always telling them, “One of you could find the cure for cancer or the solution to poverty around the world some day.” I teach my students to be self-aware so that they can change things and make the world a better place for all people.
One easy way for me to help my students learn these valuable risk-taking skills is by modelling the desired behavior. If I want my students to take risks and try new things, then I need to do the same. So today, I unveiled a new grading procedure, with the caveat that it’s something new and it might fail. It might not work out the way I have intended, but I want to try and see what happens.
As we utilize the objectives-based grading system in the sixth grade, we are often entering grades with meaningful feedback into our grading portal. The students always know how they stand in terms of meeting the standards in preparation for the seventh grade. They can check their grades via our online grading system at any time and know how they are progressing towards the graded objectives. As my school requires that we also grade our students on their effort in class, we also need to assess their effort on a daily basis. Although I take mental notes on their daily effort in class, I don’t necessarily make note of this anywhere. I don’t enter their daily effort into our grading system. I wait until the end of each marking period to enter their effort grades. For many of our students, this is frustrating. While they always know their achievement grades, they are always wondering about their effort grades. “What is my effort grade in Humanities?” my students will often ask. Sure, I can answer them with a ballpark number and some trite feedback, but I feel as though I can’t provide them with meaningful and relevant feedback that will promote growth and development. So, this got me thinking… How can I help my students know the reality of their effort on a daily basis, so that they can make the necessary changes to become the best students possible?
So, I decided to pilot something for the final term of our academic year. Every day, I will enter an effort grade for each of their major classes, based on their daily effort. Are they focused and on task during the period? Are they prepared for class? Did they complete the homework? Are they being a good classmate? Along with the effort grade, I will include specific feedback on their performance. If they need to improve in certain areas, I will include that in the feedback. If they do well in other areas, I will also cite that in the feedback. I want my students to know exactly how they are performing in all areas of academic life so that they know their areas of strength and weakness. These daily effort marks and feedback comments will help my students see what they do well and what they still need to work on. I’m hoping that this change will better support my students as they grow into the best versions of themselves.
Now, I don’t know if this change to how I grade and assess the students will work with our grading system. Perhaps it will mess things up. Maybe the average won’t work right or explain the reality of their effort to the students. Maybe the students will be confused by the data that appears in their grading portal. What if I don’t have time to enter these grades daily? What if this change doesn’t make a difference for my students? What if they still keep asking me for more feedback or help in interpreting their grades? What if this change ends up being a failure? What if Einstein said, “Oh, this Theory of Relativity stuff is too hard. I’m just going to give up.” What if Thomas Jefferson gave up on making the light bulb? We’d be in the dark right now. I can’t let the possibility of failure prevent me from trying new things. If this effort grading trial fails, then I will make some changes and try something else. I will not let setbacks and failure prevent me from trying things. Like my students, I will learn from my mistakes and find a new way to solve my problem. I won’t give up, no matter what. I’m hopeful that by me modelling this idea of trying new things, taking risks, and persevering, my students will see the value in the problem-solving process.