The option of doing less?

In a class that is all about creativity and autonomy, can students choose to do nothing? Obviously that isn’t the goal, I have worked very hard to create pathways that are engaging. But there is a delicate dance happening between intrinsic motivations and external expectations.

Students are trained to think about grades as the end-all, but this type of thinking enables many of the problems we have in the classroom. Grades become two sides of the same coin – they only way to get things to happen in the classroom, but also the reason awesome things don’t typically happen in the classroom. Any teacher already knows the meanings hidden in the question ‘will this be graded’. I feel diminished, as a teacher, by the question itself.

Parents, constancy, modifications, gaming the system, inflation… There is so much more to say, I will leave it at that.

So without grades, other forms of feedback are needed. True. Maybe they take more time to communicate, but that doesn’t mean they are impossible. This summer I will be designing a new feedback system that should reteach as needed, encourage, and train students to give each other feedback too.

But even with all of this, I still wonder where the floor is. Obviously ‘doing nothing’ isn’t an option. But what about a overly simple project that is slow-walked for weeks? At some point, projects like these act as a barometer of engagement and force ME to improve. If I create busyness and rote copying with too much structure, I would be losing a valuable source of feedback on an authentic, very high measure – engagement.

Raising ambitions is a real challenge. I’m starting to get it, but impacting students in upper middle school is going to be a real accomplishment.

A new vision for education

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