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Morphing NoGradesDay into Less Stress Fridays

January 22, 2011

A very long time ago, I wrote about an idea I was trying to sell to some students about creating a NoGradesDay, where we would try to combat mindless talk about grades, stress and SATs, and instead, celebrate the joy of learning.

Slowly but surely, this idea has been gaining momentum as we’ve continued to talk about Race to Nowhere, misery poker and being a duck.

Eventually, the group of students I’ve been working with decided they wanted to hold an assembly around the topic. And so we spent a number of meetings talking about skits, gathering quotes, and ways in which we could pull all this together. Still, most of these meetings were at 7am on Wednesdays, so minimal traction was made, and the date, last Tuesday seemed to be coming closer and closer. When the ice storm hit last week and caused us to miss a week of school, I thought to myself, “this assembly is dead.”

This is one of my big failings—too often I feel like I need to be puppet master with students and lead them in every step of the way. I see this from time to time in my classroom (though I’m getting better at it), but it is most noticeable when working with kids on big long term projects. I’m too quick to push them to delegate all the tasks, and leave the “important” stuff for myself. This time, trapped in my house by a sheet of ice, and headed into paternity leave, there was nothing I could do. My colleauge F, who has a wonderful tolerance for chaos and a faith that things will get done with gentle guidance, sent out a couple of emails to see if the students were still interested in working on it.

And were they ever. They’d already written and recorded a rap video about not talking about grades.

And a pretty great enactment of misery poker

And from there, they took an idea I sent them with a video from a speaker talking about reframing how you talk about work using “I don’t have to, I GET to,” as in “I don’t have to stay up late reading American History, I GET to stay up learning about the first constitutional convention.” And “I don’t have to spend my time filling our all these college applications, I GET to fill out these applications so I can spend my next four years in college.”

Anyway, the kids did an amazing job of taking the original no grades day idea and completely reframing it into a weekly movement: “less stress Fridays.” Here’s the announcement they wrote:

Don’t forget about “Less Stress Fridays!” It may not seem like much, but we the student body can make a real change on this campus by refusing to talk about grades, scores, tests, quizzes, SATs (juniors, yes, that’s you) or college applications. In addition to not talking about grades let’s not play that unproductive game of misery poker i.e “I have two tests, a 10 page paper, and I’m going to a conference over the weekend,” says the stressed student “Oh yeah?,” replies his bleary-eyed friend. “I’ll raise you all that, and add a lab report.”

Their assembly consisted of the the Race to Nowhere Trailer, the two videos, plus a discussion of a bunch of quotes they gathered from students about how stress affected their lives, and the 9 minute video about “I don’t have to, I GET to” by Zev Carlin-Newman from the 2008 Challenge Success conference.

Even though I was away on leave, I managed to get my sub to film the presentation, and I’ve uploaded it here. It’s password protected, but if you are interested in watching it, let me know and I’ll share the password with you.

So will this change the culture of my school and get students to discover a joy in learning and be driven by the intrinsic motivation of curiosity rather than the extrinsic motivation of grades, honor rolls and college admissions? Who knows. I do think it shows incredible courage by this group of students, and gives me more hope than just about anything else I’ve seen on this topic.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Jim Doherty permalink
    January 22, 2011 10:18 am

    I would love to see this video. Working at a prep school I am overwhelmed by what you call the misery poker. I love that phrase!


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