alfie kohn, assessment, Be the change, being a teacher, change, choices, grades, homework

Change Doesn’t Have to be All or Nothing

I remember the first orientation day when I had to face parents and explain to them that their child would probably not have much homework in my classroom.  I remember the fear that almost made me choke on my words, the way I had to remind myself to look up, the way I held my breath waiting for a reaction.  Then I added that instead of letter grades students would get feedback and we would set goals, grades would only show up on trimester report cards and no where else.  By now I was breaking into a cold sweat, my stomach churning, hands were clammy.  Somebody had to react, and then…nothing.  No raised hands, no sour faces, just a quiet wait for what else I had to share. 

Big changes for sure coming from this sophomore teacher.  Big changes that I felt had been necessary for me to be a better teacher and to provide a better education for the students.  Big changes that I had decided to do all at once.  And yet, you don’t have to.  Even though I speak passionately about how throwing out grades or limiting homework has been the best decision I have ever made, that is exactly it; it was my decision.  Something that I knew I had to do to restore my sanity, my passion for teaching.  And yet, that doesn’t mean it is going to work for you.  Perhaps my ideas are too extreme, or just do not fit with your educational philosophy and that is perfectly fine.  But maybe, just maybe, you would be willing to try it for just one little assignment?

Perhaps you are curious but just not ready to go all out.  Perhaps the idea of limiting homework overall sounds insane but maybe it could be tried for a unit?  Perhaps rather than a letter grade, for one project, feedback could be given or students could assess themselves?  Perhaps just trying something different one time will work better for you?  Perhaps, you might like it, perhaps you wont, but perhaps one time will change your mind?

As a first year teacher, if someone had told me to limit homework, or to get rid of grades, I would have rolled my eyes and not listened.  I would have thought them radical, extreme, or totally clueless.  I was not ready for that type of teaching.  I was not ready to take my teaching in that direction.  That direction had to come from within me, the timing had to be right, as did the purpose.   And that is ok.  It is ok to not embrace what Alfie Kohn says.  It is ok to have faith in whatever one believes is the way to teach, there is room for us all in education.  But perhaps, we should all try something else, just once, and then see if that change is meant for us or not. 

2 thoughts on “Change Doesn’t Have to be All or Nothing”

  1. I totally agree with this… Some teachers find change (which is constant) so difficult to deal with. We can be role-models, and help when we can.

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