Monday, November 07, 2005

Straight A’s, They’re Overrated

I guess this is for all of us parents who eagerly anticipate the arrival of the first quarter’s school reports. (We are getting ours this week.) Our school district’s gifted program coordinator has sent a very interesting letter home to the parents. I liked it so much, I put it on my fridge and I’m also putting it on my blog.

As an aside, I really like our gifted coordinator. The two of us get along well, since we are fellow survivors. You see, we both have two boys, two and a half years apart, and we have both managed to survive the first few years. That’s an instant bond right there. I’m not kidding, I know a lot of women who have two sons that are two to three years apart. I remember meeting one of them in the street, shortly after I had K10, and telling her that I now had two boys, only to hear her reply: “My condolences.” (her boys were 8 and 10 at the time). We all kind of gravitate towards one another, and this is not surprising, seeing as we have all returned from the same war… But I digress.

Back to the letter. (All emphasis is mine.)

During a recent visit, my six-year-old granddaughter wrote a short story and drew a picture to go with the story. When she was done, she wanted me to put a “number” on her paper. The number she wanted me to write was 100%. I am not sure she really understands what 100% stands for – but she knew she wanted it on her story. How sad that students begin to value a grade at such a young age. At six-years-old, she should just enjoy writing stories and drawing pictures. No grade should even be involved!

Since this visit, I have thought even more about how grades can negatively impact student learning. As I work with teachers to provide more challenging learning experiences for students who are gifted, I hear them worry aloud that parents will react negatively if their children start getting lower grades. The teachers know that many parents share the misperception that high grades means all is well in school. Perhaps parents need to be reminded that “Intelligence does not equal effortlessness.” Students need to remember this not only while working in the classroom but also while doing homework.

Parents want teachers to provide a challenging environment and expectations. Parents want their child not to fear hard work. To my knowledge, there is no college application that asks for transcripts from elementary or middle schools. Therefore, grades K-8 are the best, safest times for students to learn to welcome hard work rather than avoid it.

Parents certainly don’t want their child to glide through grades K-12, get high grades with little or no effort, then go off to a highly competitive college with no clue of how to study and work hard to learn. This is a recipe for disaster.
Everyone in the freshman class came from the top 5 percent of their high school graduating class. Most are accustomed to getting all A’s in school. Unfortunately, the college doesn’t work that way. Many students will get low grades for the first time in their lives. When that happens, they can become seriously discouraged or even depressed.

It’s much better if your child understands that real learning means forward progress from wherever one enters the learning curve for a particular subject. Straight A’s means that your child knows the material. They don’t necessarily mean that your child is learning. Maybe he knew it six months ago or a year ago. So if a teacher is offering challenging materials and your child is truly learning – celebrate. Praise the effort your child is putting forth even if the grade is not an A.

I hope my granddaughter will take risks in her story writing and that she will be motivated to put forth effort in learning. The “pay off” will be (and should be) a love for learning and not a grade which may not reflect her true depth of knowledge.

I second every word. I was a good student myself, although I never had straight A’s. Once, in my last year of school, I had my biology teacher apologize to me for giving me a B. Given that I cannot understand biology even if my life depended on it, that really freaked me out.

Just like the letter says, I did glide effortlessly through school, and had to learn how to study after I got to college. I did get low grades, for the first time in my life. It didn’t faze me, but my parents were pretty depressed.

My parents are perfectionists. Allow me to illustrate. For several years, they tried to teach I12 calligraphic handwriting. For those of you who don’t know I12, it’s roughly like teaching a cow to fly, or an eagle to produce milk. But my parents are not easily intimidated, and they kept on pressing on for two or three years until they finally gave up.

Probably because all my life I’ve been making an unconscious effort not to be like my parents in a lot of ways, I’m pretty indifferent about grades. Well, if it’s all F’s, then I would probably worry. If the grades are good, or improving, then I will probably say something nice. I understand that a good grade may feel to a child like a reward for a job well done, and I respect that. But, really, they are just grades. They are no more the ultimate goal of our child’s school work than a high salary is the ultimate purpose of our lives. I know parents who discipline their kids if they get a B on their report. So far, I’m glad to say I have been able to avoid both punishing my kids for bad grades, and paying them for good ones.

So… I hope you all are feeling better now, and don’t sweat those reports! Happy Monday!

The Goldie has spoken at 2:54 AM

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