The Value of a Zero
As a classroom teacher, one of my biggest frustrations was late work and work simply not handed in. I struggled with how to report this. Years ago my report cards would sit in front of me and I'd have to put grades in. I found myself thinking about effort, responsibility and attitude. I was wrong. It shouldn't be my biased opinion on those things, it should be a true reflection of what the student knows.
Frustration One: I'll admit I used this phrase in the past...School is a job for students. Really? I was wrong. The "Real World" includes compensation, typically in the form of money. The "Real World" people lose jobs for failing to work. Students aren't paid and students certainly aren't fired. Instead of saying you are preparing them for the "Real World", why don't we understand, relate and differentiate to optimize students potential in our classroom. Let's not relate it to the so called "Real World". If students don't do an assignment we as educators need to figure out why. Is it a lack of Resources? Time? Understanding? Why did the student not do the assignment?
Frustration Two: I'll admit, I've stated the phrase, "We must prepare our students for the future." I do believe this, but understand what this means. Preparing students for the future is teaching them how to be life long learners, how to problem solve and how to be a contributing citizen to society. My frustration lies in people saying students must learn _____ to be successful. The blank could be anything, the point is we should be teaching students how to find the answers and to think critically.
Frustration Three: I'll admit I've uttered the phrase, "Giving a student a zero will destroy their self-esteem or self worth." Really? I guess it could, but I believe that students would rather get a zero with no effort, than a 30% with effort. The student that tries and fails is much more likely to lose self-esteem. They've invested time and effort, a 30% would clearly show that they do not understand the concept.
Belief One: All kids can learn. I've always believed this. I've also always believed that a big part of teaching is motivating and engaging students. I love listening to Kevin Honeycutt and hearing his story about how he got a troubled student to embrace learning in his classroom. He said on day one, "HEY, this is a challenging classroom, do you have my back?" The student looked perplexed, Kevin restated, "YOU GOT MY BACK?" The student then proceeded to get the attention of the class, by yelling..."YO EVERYBODY! SIT DOWN, MR. HONEYCUTT IS READY TO TEACH!" From this moment forward the troubled student was no trouble for Mr. Honeycutt. The message here is, Trust Kids and you may be surprised what can happen.
Belief Two: Knowledge is power, but a clean slate can be more powerful. I remember starting each school year and looking at my class list. Every year I'd have teachers bend my ear with information about how challenging a student is. Immediately my perspective was skewed. I found value in the clean slate. In the end I think there is a happy medium. Some information is helpful.
Belief Three: The true value of a zero. My belief is that educators that give zeros (and I was one, at one time), are not assessing knowledge or understanding. Educators that give zeros are assessing responsibility and effort. PERIOD.
My report cards always had room for teacher comments. I ALWAYS filled the box with comments. This was my professional statement about the student. This was my opportunity to explain the students character strengths and weaknesses. The actual report card was just student knowledge, not my personal biases. I don't believe zeros should be given. I believe all students are capable of understanding on some level. I always believed it was my role to find a way for a student to "show me what he/she knew".
Educators have a challenging job. We must teach students content, help them become life long learners, engage them in problem solving and deeper thinking. Plus help them become the best person they can be. It really is the "whole child" approach. I embrace this, and I also believe that responsibility and effort are critical, I just don't think they should be the deciding factors in a students grade.
I can visualize the students I had that always turned in assignments late or didn't do them. I would conference with them, I would try to relate, I would try to motivate and engage. One student stands out for me: Austin. Austin treated school as social hour. He participated when he felt like it. At first I was frustrated with Austin. Then I learned about his life, I invested in Austin. After I invested in Austin I found it was easier to motivate him and he didn't want to let me down. Austin and I played chess when his work was done, he would teach me yo-yo tricks, and he even decided to sign-up for my after school cross country club. After I invested in Austin the zeros disappeared. I found a way to reach him. I believe all kids can be reached. Teachers are key, can you unlock a challenging student?
This week's big question: Grades are a communication tool to students and parents, do your grades reflect knowledge or effort?
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Mr. Gilpin is a people first educator that is focused on serving others, building relationships, student engagement and empowering staff.