My High Honor Roll Student
I am forever dwelling on learning environments, or more specifically environments where people learn best. I guess that makes sense given my chosen career path. However, lately these thoughts have been a bit more overwhelming due to the fact that the my professional life has intersected with my personal life.
I found out yesterday that my sixth grader made high honor roll for the second time in his brief middle school career. While I am extremely proud of his focus, I still wonder if what he is learning is really significant and whether or not he is being engaged in school daily and if higher-level critical thinking skills are being fostered. He is very grade-conscious and checks his on-line portal each night to see if he has dropped below 90 in any course. But is he enjoying learning about new things or is he involved in too much rote memorization of meaningless, low-level facts?
Parents Worry About The Wrong Things
I think too many of us (parents) worry about grades without spending time thinking about what are kids are being graded on. For instance, my son recently had a quiz in computer class where he had to memorize terms like floppy disk and CPU. While he aced the quiz, I am pretty sure this exercise did not foster any growth in his ability to use a computer or instill him with a passion to do more in this area.
While it is nice to brag to friends and family about a child's "high honor roll status," do you ever worry that these grades alone may not be preparing your child for some of the higher-level tasks that are going to come their way somewhere down the line? Equally important, do you worry that the school your child is in might not be instilling a love of learning and creating a foundation that will make your child a lifelong learner. Have you ever asked for an explanation of why something is being taught or why so much rote memorization is still being demanded?
Research Shows Us Our Focus Needs An Adjustment
The research of Carol Dweck and others proves that these concerns are quite valid. Dan Pink's new book Drive is also a reminder about "The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us." In fact Pink cites some of Dweck's findings on the subject of learning. Here are a couple excerpts that we all need to consider:
"Dweck found that giving children a performance goal (say getting a high mark on a test) was effective for relatively straight forward problems but often inhibited the child's ability to apply the concepts to new situations...Student with learning goals score significantly higher...With a learning goal, students don't have to feel that they're already good at something in order to hang in and keep trying. After all their goal is to learn, not to prove they're smart."
In the end, a report card with all A's, copies of the high honor roll list with your name on it, a high school diploma are certainly nice to have. But if you have all of this without a passion to go out and immerse yourself in learning about something that interests you what do you really have? Will these past records of learning in an environment focused on performance goals help our children get where they want to go and become what they want to become? Just wondering?