Quarter grades—a roadblock to growth mindset and learning?
I think I’ve developed a pretty healthy classroom atmophere that promotes mistake making and allows students to learn from those mistakes. I have pretty good evidence of this from the student feedback I collect, like this:
I have definitely developed a more growth mindset in this class and I am really enjoying the way we learn. So many of my classes are so stressful! Everything must be perfect all the time! Physics feels like a nice low stress class where we learn for fun! That is the way I wish all of my classes would be like! Mistakes are a part of learning and I feel like the other classes that I have don’t recognize that. I am having fun in this class more that anything and I believe that that helps boost my understanding and my wanting to learn.
But in the past week or so, I feel that one thing has unraveled much of the progress we’ve been making as a class—quarter grades. In one week, I’m required to give every student a 0-100 grade along with a comment. Suddenly, even though students have been taking assessments every Friday, making mistakes, learning from them and improving their understanding on a student initiated assessment the following week, these assessments count, and they seem to be worthy of much more stress, which at least anecdotally based on my students’ work, is getting in the way of their showing understanding on the assessment.
Here’s what’s frustrates me—imagine your local high school play, halfway between the first rehearsal and opening night. Odds are, the play is terrible right now. Actors still don’t know their lines, the stage is probably completely unfinished, no one knows their cues—it’s a disaster. But everyone knows what they need to do to get better, and no one is discouraged. To put on a great play, you have to go through that stage where you put on a truly terrible play. It just seems like it’s baked in to high school theater. And no director would ever listen to some outside entity coming in and requiring public reviews be written of every actor halfway through. Were a parent to come in to a rehearsal at this point, he or she would also likely be very understanding of the fact that the play is still in a very early stage, and forgiving of all the mistakes he/she sees.
Why can’t it be this way in my classroom? My students all know exactly what they need to do–they get detailed feedback every day through formative assessment, and every week through our weekly assessments. They can check their progress on each standard at anytime through ActiveGrade. And yes, at this point, some students still haven’t mastered some fundamental things that would be akin to knowing your lines or cues. Like good actors, they know that if they don’t figure these things out, the result will be a terrible play (or in our case, a poor exam and a low overall grade). But like a confident director, I have little doubt that my students will master these things. I just worry that giving them a low grade next week because they haven’t mastered these things will do more harm than good in this process.
Why again, can’t we develop students who approach academics the same way they approach their extracurricular pursuits like sports and theater—open to mistakes, cognizant that they won’t be perfect on the first or even second try, and confident in the knowing that focusing on the process will lead to the outcome they want?
I’m also wondering what if anything I can say to my students and parents in comments that will help them to understand this process. Are there words I can say to help parents to help them see my classroom and their child’s progress more like that of a high school theater production where mistakes are an expected and essential part of the journey?