In the Game of School, We Change or Students Lose!
We have to stop playing the game of school! If we don’t change, our students will continue to lose. Change is coming to education, slowly but surely, are you doing your part to break barriers and bad habits?
Dynamic Learning requires that we let go of the traditional ideas that we have about school and education. For many educators and students, school has become a game. By the time students reach the middle grades, they have either mastered the game, or they haven’t.
Unfortunately, this game has become so ingrained in our systems and testing; it can be hard to see your own contributions to the game. In order to break the barriers and bad habits we have in our schools and truly transform education, we have to stop playing the game of school and pave the way for new ideas and new ways to learn.
The Game of School
I learned the play the game of school very well. I was a traditional learner. I could listen to lectures, take notes, and please my teachers with most of my work. School was and in many places still is one-size-fits-all.
I made it through with good grades only because I mastered the game of school, turning in work on time (usually worksheets). I didn’t lose points for behavior, late work, or other non-learning related point reductions. I even collected extra credit for bringing in a couple of boxes of Kleenex and posterboard. But guess what? I didn’t learn much at all. I was not at all prepared for the challenges of college. I didn’t know how to learn.
My first few years as a classroom teacher, I wasn’t much different. I taught the way I was taught, graded the way I had been graded, and I created many bad habits.
Why do we do the things we do? Why do we have the policies we have in our schools? Why do we create all of these little boxes and try to fit each student into their assigned learning space? Each subject gets a box and is not allowed to commingle with the other subjects.
Why do we create a schedule first, then decide how to fit the learning in the boxes? Why doesn’t the learning drive the schedule? You can’t schedule greatness!
Why do we grade behaviors? Why doesn’t grading reflect learning?
Why do some teachers teach lessons and units the same way year after year? Maybe it’s because it’s working, but most likely it’s because that’s just the way it has always been done.
Have you ever thought about how the way you grade and assess work, or maybe how the way you are required to grade could be contributing to the game of school?
There have been many articles, books, and theories on shifting the way we assess and assign grades. The bottom line is that the grade on the report card should be reflective of the learning in the class, not whether little Sally was compliant and turned her work in on time.
Extra credit tends to play a major role in the secondary world. I remember those students who were always on the edge of a “failing,” grade and needed an extra boost to bring them up. Sometimes, it was the coaches sending them out to the teachers during the last week of the six-week grading period basically having them beg for extra credit assignments. Now, I couldn’t tell you if those students acquired any new knowledge or skills through the extra credit “work.”
At what point do grades actually reflect learning, and not just how well students play the game of school. I’ve even worked for administrators who told me I was required to deduct or add a certain percentage of points based on behaviors. Gasp if you will, but this practice is still happening. The system is perpetuated every day. Rethink the purpose of the grade in your class and your school. Grades should reflect learning and achievement.
I used to keep a stack of homework passes in my desk (gasp!). Yes, I did! There were a lot of ways that I played the game of school, both as a student and as a teacher. Those homework passes became very valuable to my students. By behaving well when I was away and had a substitute teacher, an entire class of students could, “cash in,” their homework pass on any assignment they wished without doing any of the work, and definitely without demonstrating any learning. I feel that hurt deep in my chest. I didn’t think about the disservice I was doing my students. Their grades were much more a reflection of behavior than they were of actual learning.
In some of the schools I worked in, we had late work policies that would dictate how many points you would lose based on how the late the work was turned in! I know this is still commonplace in many schools. It’s all part of the system. Don’t get me wrong, turning in work on time is a life skill, but should be part of a behavior management system and not tied to a grade, GPA, and ultimate success in school and sometimes, beyond. We must rethink our grading and assessment policies and procedures, and bring the focus back to quality feedback.
I may even have a former student who is now reading this blog post. Please accept my apologies for playing the game of school. I wish I’d known better!
Are We Stuck?
Are we stuck? Are YOU stuck? Are you afraid of what your principal will say? Are you afraid you will get into trouble? Playing the game of school is playing it safe, and there’s no way to come out winning if you always play it safe. Our students lose! Fear of change is built into the culture of the factory model. But what if companies like AOL didn’t play it safe? Where could they be right now?
Is education stable or stuck? Or both? We cannot make assumptions and pretend that this way of educating students is actually working, or that it will work in the future. If we keep doing things the way we’ve always done it, this country will drown.
I think most of us agree that the educational system in the U.S. is broken, but most of us don’t think it is our duty to change it. We leave it up to the others, the advocates, the lobbyists, the lawmakers…and that’s why nothing has changed.
It Starts with You!
It starts with you. Start small and think of the bad habits you may have formed that are contributing to the game of school. Start with your classroom or your role in education. Every small step will take us closer to meaningful change.
If you want something to change, you have to be willing to stand up and fight for those changes. Challenge the status quo! Question everything! Create change that you believe in and stop playing the game of school.
Be sure to check out my other Dynamic Learning posts:
What do you think? What are some other bad habits that need to be broken in education?
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