In reading the first four chapter of The Art of Possibility by Roz and Ben Zander, I was struck by several interesting ideas. First, the beginning of the book appears to be about positive thinking, and the power of positive thinking. I recognize it immediately because that is what I was taught growing up. All you have to do is picture yourself doing....or being...or wearing...My mom was especially good at helping you channel your wants and desires into positive thoughts. To this day, my grown children will still call her (or me) and ask us to help "think" them into (or out of) a situation. My mother also taught me the opposite side of this coin, be careful what you ask for...you might get it!
The second thing that resonated with me is the idea of giving all of my students an A in the beginning, to break down the barriers to learning. Several years ago I had a very diverse class, with every level of learner and every kind of student, it was a real challenge. There was a lot of competition, both real and imagined, between the "A" students themselves, and between the "A" students and everyone else. I was an "A" student myself, but as a teacher I've found that I have a real affinity for those students who work hard but don't ever seem to reach that "A" level of work. So I gave my students the assignment of bringing in a 3-D cell model, made of any material they wanted to use, as long as they could properly interpret the required parts of the cell. I gave the class three days to present the project to their classmates, and of course the "A" students signed up for the first slots. All of their projects were elaborately done, made with purchased materials, some even commercial grade look-a-likes. At the end of the second day, I held two of my basketball boys back and asked them if they had gotten some ideas for their project so they could present the last day. They hemmed and hawed, it was too much money, too much work, too much time, etc. You've all heard it. I jokingly said, "Oh come on guys, I could buy a 99¢ hamburger from Wendy's and present it to this class as a cell model...you two have to be able to come up with something!" Well, the next day they showed up, one with a hamburger still in the wrapper (a plant cell) and one out of the wrapper (an animal cell) and they did a perfect job explaining how they'd arranged all of the add-ons, condiments, etc. to represent the cell. They both received A's on their project. Now, I thought it was a fair grade, but don't for a minute think that my traditional "A" students liked it. They thought it was cheating, or that I was playing favorites. I tried to explain to them my reasoning for the A, but in the end I decided that it didn't have to be justified. According to the rubric, the two boys earned an A. In my heart, they deserved an A.
Maybe I should try giving them all an A in the beginning and see what they can create when the grade isn't the most important thing.