Are we getting softer?
In a recent post about how I switched from using red pen to grade student work because it is intimidating to students.
That drew this response:
‘Red pen’ damaging students???? Seriously???? If kids are this fragile these days, then the end is truly nigh. Really, that makes me want to give up.
This seems like a fair question. Am I soft with with SBG you get many chances to demonstrate understanding? Am I coddling students when I try to reach out to them to tell them I think they could do better and invite them to assess? Is it lowering the bar to not grade homework and use it only as practice?
In the past, I will say I thought the exact same thing when I first heard of a colleague giving up the red pen. But now I think of it this way—I’m trying to create truly resilient students. Students that are willing to make mistakes as often and seek feedback from as many people as possible because they know that’s a powerful way to learn. I want my students to take a test and then jump right into the difficult process of confronting what they did not understand and working to overcome this. In my mind, this is a challenge harder than any football drill. Putting on a brave face, or acting tough and trying to hide one’s misunderstanding, sitting down and simply” taking one’s licks and then moving on”—all of these behaviors, while they might make students seem “tough” operate counter to the work I’m doing. At the same time, we’re all human, and certainly there are triggers like tone and red pen to affect our emotions, and there’s lots of evidence out there to show that emotion is powerfully tied to learning. So if I can make small changes—grading in green, for instance, that smooth the path just a bit more for my students and help them do the really difficult work I’m asking on confronting their deepest misconceptions, then yes, I’ll change the color of my pen. And I don’t see it as a sign of fragility at all.
Plus it’s not just me doing this. The owners of “tough” and “hard-core”, the United States Army, have transformed what basic training is all about, too.
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Oct. 26, 2010) Aca,!” Blind obedience-oriented basic combat training is out; confidence-building and thinking-oriented training is now in.
That’s the bottom line of how Comprehensive Soldier Fitness is shaping changes in Army boot camp; changes leaders say are improving Soldiers’ preparedness for combat once they reach their units, said Command Sgt. Maj. John R. Calpena, Initial Military Training Center of Excellence, at an AUSA meeting of senior Army enlisted.
“When we went through basic, total control and fear of authority was taught — you could see the fear with that stupid look on their faces. Instead of creating obedient machines to do what they’re told to do when they’re told to do it, we’re teaching our young Soldiers how to think, how to understand the circumstances and make decisions in stressful conditions because that’s what’s going on downrange,” Calpena said.
Teaching culture, beliefs, values and behaviors are also part of basic training now that CSF is being used. “We used to train the seven core Army values — loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage — using PowerPoint slides,” said Sarvis. “This didn’t hold their attention very well. Now we use interactive-scenario-based training, which allows Soldiers to interact with the videos, making decisions along the way and reinforced by the drill sergeants.”
Resiliency training is an important aspect of basic. “It’s a huge deal,” said Sarvis, explaining Soldiers now need to bounce back from stress. He said trainees are given the Global Assessment Tool within the first 10 days of training and the Army then tracks how they improve or decline over their careers.
So I don’t think I’m being soft at all. I think my classes are harder and more focused on thinking and rigor than they ever have been in the past; I’ve just shed all the trappings of rigor like red pens, controlling every moment in the classroom, and assigning piles of homework, and instead, put that energy into getting students to do really hard work of confronting their misunderstandings, analyzing their mistakes, and developing a real understanding of physics.