Saturday, December 12, 2009

Why are slower learners punished?

I've been thinking a lot lately about how the current education system operates.   As I look further into standards based grading, utilize formative assessments, and evaluate my current classroom practices, I wonder why we do things the way we do.  Typically, the students that earn the best grades have one of two characteristics.

1. They are "smarter" than other students: these students learn more quickly, are highly motivated, and could probably learn on their own with just a book or other resource.

2. They work harder than other students: these students spend lots of time doing homework, come in before school or after school, and are rewarded by our current system because students who work hard should get a better grade than those who are "lazy".

Why is this the case.  Do these two characteristics make better employees?  Maybe, but as an educational system, I think we're missing the boat.  We're not living in an industrial age anymore.  We're living in a digital age.  We have to prepare our students for what they're going to see, but that's what's scary.  We don't know what we're going to see in the future.  We need to prepare students for learning.  I hear this question in my math classes often: "Why do we need to know this?"  I have two responses to this question.
1. I give them a real life job, or time they will use it in.
2. We're learners.  We want to learn and keep learning different ways to learn.

I then get the usual groan from my students.  They say, "Well, I'm not going to do that job"  I then say, "You never know.... what your future holds"

Well, I've digressed a bit here, so I'll return back.  Why are slower learners punished?  I don't have the answer.  What I do have is a solution...  Take away grades, focus on learning, collaboration, and learning! (Yes I did say learning twice, I know that and it's a point of emphasis :) ) This will take a total shift in our society.  People are going to have to let people in education be the experts and move forward.  Mistakes are going to be made by teachers, administrators, and schools, but that's how learning works isn't it?

A large factor in this shift, if we want to make it (I believe we have to, to afford our students a bright future) is for teachers and administrators be learners as well.  The system we operate in is outdated.  Period.  But, change can't come at once.  We have to move our system forward at a quicker pace than we have been.  This shift has to be made collaboratively.  Teachers and administrators have to work together.  As a good friend and coach says...  "How...... Together!"


  1. What about standards based assessment, it lends value to the "ART " of teaching while giving a focus and accountability to piece to each other and our learning community.
    Taking away grades is a great first step, but how will you assess. Grades are a means to this end, an antiquated one IMO but a means regardless. You still must be able to evaluate learning in some fashion, right?

  2. I agree completely with the idea that slower learners shouldn't be punished for not getting it as quickly as the "fast" learners. But the struggle lies for me in what to do when their "slowness" comes from laziness and lack of participation. Learning is paramount... but doesn't there need to be some consequence for intentional "slowness"?

  3. @mwacker Yes, assessment is a must. Our system still requires grades, so I will still grade assessments etc. I'm moving towards a standards based grading and assessment system. For me it's a slower process. I want my students to be successful and learn. Thanks for the comment!

  4. Mrs. L.

    I agree. Those students who are "lazy" and don't give an honest effort to learn are an issue. As teacher, I hope to encourage them to increase participation in their learning. This is not always easy and some choose not to be actively involved in the learning opportunities. My job as teacher is to continue to provide learning experiences. Thanks for your thoughts!