"I solved the proof in six steps, but he wanted seven."
"I had all the information, but it wasn't in order so he counted the whole question wrong."
"If I misspell a word, will you take off points?"
"I know it annoys you when I ask these questions, but in my other classes my teachers take off points for these things. This class is totally different."
"In my other classes my teachers just want me to memorize a bunch of stuff, they don't really teach me to USE it."
These are quotes from my students today. Today, my students had to take what I call a vocabulary check. The concept of a vocabulary check is simple. I gather vocabulary they have asked for or that we have worked with in our lesson, and I only choose words they have needed within the context of conversations and other communicative tasks. I type them up on a power point slide and give them these instructions:
Pick 10. Write sentences using 10 of these words including evidence that you really know what the word means. If you want to do more than 10 you can earn up to 10 additional bonus points.
I also tell them the only thing I am grading is whether they show evidence that they know what the word means. That's it. There are no penalties for anything other than that. So, I don't take points off for...
- misspelling words
- syntax mistakes
- conjugation problems
- problems in agreement
The thing is, the task is vocabulary use, so in my mind THAT is what I am assessing. Besides that, none of my learning targets or "can do" statements say anything about PERFECTION.
You should see how excited they are to have a choice in the words they get to pick. They love it! Isn't it our hope for them to show what they know?
Did I tell you that these students are honors level students?
The sad thing to me is that our best thinkers and performers are paralyzed by the fear of being less than perfect. They told me that me and my class are not like any other class they have because I'm "chill" or at least that is what they think. What they don't realize is that my goals are just way different, but even knowing now that things are different in my classroom, the moment I hand them something to do they panic a little bit (or maybe a lot) because they can't handle being wrong. Tragically, this is because they have been trained to be afraid to be wrong or even a little less than perfect.
If you are a part of the #langchat community you know that we chat a lot about wanting students to be okay with their mistakes, taking risks to say what they want to say and just being wrong. In my classroom, when a student makes a mistake I say, "I am so glad you made that mistake! Thank you for giving me the opportunity to teach you something new!" That student always looks at me like I am a crazy woman, which by their definitions of other teachers, maybe I am! I guess I just cringe to hear my kids say these things I mentioned earlier to me before an assessment. I can't imagine what their study sessions must look like if perfection is the goal.
My question is: what are we teaching anyway?
And I don't just mean "we" foreign language teachers. I mean "we" teachers of all subjects. How can we ask our students to be risk takers, then beat them up with penalty points for not responding to the question the way we would? How can we ask our students to think for themselves, but take deductions when they don't solve math problems the way we want them to. How can we promote the 21st century skills that we are supposed to be training them to acquire while keeping them in a tight little box and slapping them on the hand when they are creative in their responses?
Maybe I just don't get it. I probably don't.