Tuesday, May 8, 2012

MAC Week Two: Blog Post "Giving an A"

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.


  1. I love how your story about the boys reverberates what you stated in the first paragraph: you asked the boys to present their knowledge in any fashion and according to your mother's words, you got what you asked for :D
    I do the same thing with my students! I give them all an A to begin the year and it is up to the student to maintain an A provided they are making efforts to improve. A grade of an "A" is based upon the quantity and quality of improvement on the content being presented. The skills/tools required for technology do not require much higher level thinking, but how to use the skills/tools is what the students are graded on. Can a student use the skills/tools to solve a given problem? I look at their process and solution to give them a grade. I have a little more freedom than in the regular classroom, so students can make multiple attempts until the desired grade.

  2. Amanda, one of the hardest things as a teacher is to get some of our students the confidence to “Try”. Many students think they are going to fail so they decide not to try to so they can justify their grade. Many feel that they would rather have power over their F, rather than being told by a teacher that they have an F. Many students need a push in the right direction and they need to know that they have someone to be there if they fall. They have to know that it is better to try and fail than never try at all. Also I could picture perfectly the arguments from the true “A” students and how they didn’t think it was fair that they received the same grade as the “Hamburger” students. I have a few of those students and remind them that they should never compare their grades with others, rather be happy with the work that THEY did and the grade THEY earned.

  3. Amanda,

    I enjoyed reading your blog. I can see how the “A” students would balk that something so simple could fulfill the assignment while they may have chosen complicated ideas and put hours of work into their projects. I can also see how the whole concept of simplicity being effective worked for the “hamburger boys” and that alone makes a great point. I do think that “giving the A in advance” creates that space that serves the purpose of what we are all trying to accomplish which is a higher level of learning and some self observation.

  4. Amanda,
    That story was classic and I can just see you giving that assignment. Those boys did exactly what you said to do, and they deserved the "A" for sure. When you think about the readings for this week, that project fit right in. The hamburger boys just needed you to be the encouraging person that you are. They did the task and did it well. The other "A" students should realize that thinking out of the box is a good thing and even the simplest things can turn out to be the greatest thing ever. Based on how this project turned out I would be curious to see what would happen if you gave everyone an "A" to start out with.


  5. great reflection on the reading. you're one of the first in all the years that I've taught this book that remembers the power of positive thinking... Yay, it's not just me.

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