Last week I listened to 14 educators from Ontario who were brave enough to stand in front of 100+ and give a five minute Ignite Talk. I am truly inspired by the passion that radiates from these fine folks. Members of the audience travelled from afar, some even came after work just to listen before returning home to teach the next day.
— royan🌶 (@royanlee) April 28, 2017
While each speaker deserves their own blog post recognition, I haven’t stopped thinking about Jen Giffen’s talk. It was evident Jen was prepared and confident. She commanded the room like I imagined she would there and in her classroom. Jen spoke of previous experiences with a particular student, and in many ways I could relate. Jen and this student had been working diligently on an assignment for days for a particular class but when the deadline approached, the student did not submit his work. Furious, Mrs. G tracked him down and in her words “went up one side and down the other” in front of his peers. I imagined him sitting in another class, head down, perhaps hiding behind a hood. I imagined this student wishing time away only to be able to escape the fear, anxiety and ridicule he was attempting to avoid. What could possibly have happened to make him avoid handing in what he had been passionately working on with the support of Mrs. Giffen?
“Where is your assignment?” Mrs. G asked sternly.
With his head down she heard him mumble.
“In my backpack.”
Confused, she continued to pry, furious that he was defiant.
“WHY DIDN’T YOU HAND IT IN?”
“Miss, I didn’t hand it in because as long as I have it, it is still good.”
What breaks my heart about this story is the notion of this student’s best work not being considered good enough. He poured his heart, blood, sweat and tears into this assignment but feared the outcome. I imagined that school was not a great experience for this individual and I wondered if he might have received negative feedback on routine occasions.
Listening to Jen, I felt devastated.
How many students have I made feel this way?
What could I have done differently?
How can we rethink evaluation so that students feel confident in moving through the learning cycle rather than fear the endpoint?
How do we motivate a student whose best work is only a C?
Are grades purposeful or hurtful?
Can we value feedback over grades?
I’d like to dedicate this post to this student. Whoever you are, wherever you are please know that your decision that day has made an impact on me as an educator. While I cannot change your experiences at school, I promise to do my very best to make them better for next year’s class.
Thank you, Jen. Truly inspiring.