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"What Do I Have to Do to Pass?"


Palpable discomfort is apparent as they scroll through the list of missing work from a variety of classes, as the deadline date for first-term grades fast approaches.

Colleges look at the first semester of a student's senior year and for many of those already accepted students who felt that the college letter was a waiver from learning, the worry about rescinded acceptances increases.

The end of the term is drawing near and the urgency to turn in all missing work has increased.

But there is no evidence of learning in this last-minute attempt to just do enough to get by.

"Miss, what do I need to do to pass?" or "Miss, can I do extra credit to bring up my grade?"

These are always challenging questions to answer because they are often coming too close to a deadline for a summative evaluation.

This is what is inherently wrong with grading and "extra credit."

If we didn't have grades, none of this would be an issue.

Here's what I suggest instead:

  • Students have a full year to try to reach mastery or even better, have as long as they need and "level up" as soon as they meet the agreed-upon standards for each skill set or content level

  • No grades are given in that time, but instead, consistent and regular feedback that addresses the particular needs of each student with strategies embedded to help them improve and progress.

  • Student participation in goal development and learning targets

  • Offering students varied and multiple ways of showing what they know and how well they know it

  • Opportunities for improvement, on-going, and supported

  • More fluidity in how they spend and structure their time throughout a school day (no bells)

  • More connected learning across disciplines, so if a student demonstrates mastery of skill sets and content for more than one class in one place, that should suffice instead of having to comply with unnecessary excess, just to do it.

  • Students should be taught to reflect on their learning often and track their own progress to determine personal growth and then revise the goals they set for themselves earlier.

The system many of us function within is seriously broken. Students have been trained to jump through hoops in an effort to achieve a grade that doesn't mean anything and this alone has been a tremendous disservice to them as people.

In life, we must strive to better ourselves as we continue to grow as learners with nothing less than the value of the learning itself to be excited about.  

If we ended report card time or specific marking periods at school, there could be a natural development and appreciation for the learning and less focus on the arbitrary values assigned to compliance.

What first steps can be taken to move away from compliance-based learning? Please share

*This post originally ran on my Education Week Teacher blog Work in Progress in January 2015

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