Thursday, June 5, 2014

If This, Then That

My 8th grade student, Elizabeth, delivered her Genius Hour presentation today. Full disclosure: I am so thoroughly impressed and moved by what she wrote and shared.

I remember the loud applause from the students as it concluded.

And I remember the word vulnerable. A student thanked Elizabeth for creating a project where she allowed herself to be vulnerable.

And I remember another thanked Elizabeth for creating something that they could relate to.

And I remember another added that they liked that we got to experience two perspectives.

I also remember that my eyes welled a touch during the presentation. And after stifling any trace of tears happening, my eyes welled (briefly) again as I listened to kids praise Elizabeth. I had to too...for being brave as a writer.

I remember noticing Elizabeth holding her hands over her eyes, and then her face and forehand, when the podcast first started to play. I couldn't tell if it was anxiety, embarrassment, or what. She rubbed at her face, clearly stressed.

As Elizabeth's podcast unfolded, it revealed itself as an admission of guilt. 

A mistake she regretted and learned from.

Her writing was significant--not because it was a wish to go back and do it over--but because it was an affirmation that she changed. She learned. And by sharing her humanity, she hoped others might learn too.

Listen to her. It is only 3 minutes and 19 seconds long but its effect lingers. It will certainly become a mentor text for my future classes over the years for many obvious reasons...and one not so obvious:

It is an example of what students can produce without the restrictions of grades as rewards or rankings. In the article, Dan Pink: Why Rewards Don't Work we read,
In research, offering rewards for success in creative tasks has been proven to damage performance, over and over again. As Dan Pink says [in this TedTalk], this is one of the most robust findings in social science.
Grades are the musculature of education. We flex it all the time don't we? And we tend to think of kids as strong students or weak students. That is the language and imagery of education. 

Presently, grades are the measure of success and growth. There is no getting away from them completely. However, Elizabeth's project is another example (among several that I have shared on this blog and on Twitter) of how removing the reward system of grading freed my students to write with depth, honesty, and courage.

I did not grade their final project or presentation.

I scored the process along the way by meeting regularly with students. They wrote and set goals, and wrote about their progress, obstacles, and solutions. After they presented, the class asked their questions and then I asked my questions which are often built on reflection (what now? what would you do differently?).

After experiencing the Genius Hour concept for the first time this year, I feel confident heading into next year that it is well worth the time for it produces a different kind of "If Then" reward.

The reward is no longer a private deposit into a stodgy grade book, but a public investment in a sincere generation of young eyes and ears.

Their work can influence and change one another.

I suspect that change is already happening in some.

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