The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Where the Points Don’t Matter and Everything’s Made Up

Several years ago, there was a television show called Whose Line Is It Anyway? that was started in the UK and then brought over to the States. The entire show featured improvisational comedy games. My favourite ones were the ones involving songs and/or dancing. It just always impressed me how well the comedians could improv entire musical performances as a group.

One of the noted elements of the show, at leas the US version, was when the host, Drew Carey, would greet viewers by saying, “Welcome to Whose Line Is It Anyway? where the points don’t matter and everything’s made up!”

There are times that I feel like education is like that.

Now, before you start scratching your heads and wondering what kind of craziness I’m talking about, bear with me and I’ll explain!

I believe firmly what Elbert Hubbard, American essayist and educator, once wrote: “The object of educating a child is to enable him to get along without his teacher. ” I have frequently shared this with my students over the years, but it came up recently in a classroom conversation about units of measure, of all things.

I was teaching about the standard weights used in the US customary system, and I was writing down the abbreviations as well as the full words. When I got to pounds and wrote the abbreviation as lb, I had a student raise her hand and ask why that was the abbreviation.

I loved my students’ reactions to this question: they turned to her and, almost as one, said, “Why did you ask that? You know he’s just going to tell you to look it up!” Which is, of course, very true. But then this student said, “But you’re our teacher; you’re supposed to just tell us!”

My response was thus: “Oh, no, no, no, no, no. My job is not to tell you the answer. It is to tell you how to find it on your own! My job is to help you learn how you learn so that you can learn without me telling you what to learn!” This is where the “everything’s made up” part comes to play. It isn’t that what I teach is made up or even that it is arbitrary; it isn’t. What I teach is relevant to the learning process and provides my students with a knowledge base that will allow them to participate more fully and intelligently in our society. But I am constantly reminded of something said by one of our district administrators at the beginning of the year (and I am paraphrasing here): The curriculum isn’t the objective of education; the curriculum is the vehicle that drives education, which is an objective in and of itself.” I am more concerned with my students learning how to think, analyse, evaluate, and synthesise information than I am with the information itself. (However, I am concerned about the information, too!)

As far as the points not mattering, well, they don’t. Not really. There are no grade percentages that show up on report cards, and students’ work in class, at home, and on tests are all just measures I use to determine if they have demonstrated mastery of skills and concepts. Of course, I use data to determine mastery. (The basic rule we use in our district is the 80/80 rule: 80% mastery of 80% of the content is adequate to meet a standard. This is, incidentally, closer to the way grades were given in Australia than they are in most American schools. But that’s another topic altogether!) The reason I say that the points don’t matter is simple: if a student completes an assignment, task, or assessment, and he or she does not adequately meet or exceed the standard, then I simply reteach and provide another assignment, task, or assessment. Points are not cumulative, and therefore, they really don’t matter. At least, not the way they will in later grades when points are cumulative! Also, I don’t want my young students to be so concerned about points that they start asking what the minimum number of points are necessary in order to achieve a certain benchmark score. I don’t like students setting goals based on the least amount of work. I would rather they set goals based on their own personal abilities and desire to do their very, very best each and every day.

[Note: I just checked on a fellow educator’s blog and saw his most recent post, which complements this one quite well.]

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