Thursday, May 12, 2011

Straight A Students

In Beware the straight-A student from Blue Skunk Blog, Doug Johnson asks,
“But here is another concern I have about straight-A students: Are they demonstrating, not intelligence, but the ability to conform, to mindlessly follow instructions, to support the established order? Do truly original thinkers and creative problem-solvers get high grades in school?”
I confess to being one of those straight A students because my parents did not accept anything less. I was such an overachiever that I did not want to disappoint my parents, ever! My parents were more proud of my As than I ever was. Of course, I was considered a nerd and a social misfit among my peers so I hung out with the other nerds and social misfits. I never misbehaved and I worked hard to please everyone.
When I went to college, it was so competitive that when I got my first B I practically had a nervous breakdown. Of course I fit right in with everyone so I was no longer considered a nerd or social misfit. But if my grades fell, I believed I would become a misfit due to low grades. So, I pulled all-nighters studying and even told myself I wasn’t working hard enough. Eating and sleeping took a back seat to improving my grade which of course took a toll on my health.
As Doug points out, I didn’t know how to use critical thinking to solve problems. I know how to memorize and regurgitate information but no one taught me to problem solve. I worked so hard to please everyone that I really didn’t know what I was good at or what I needed to do to find this out. I was scared whenever I was put in a situation where someone didn’t spell out exactly what I needed to do, say, or think. What good were my straight As at this time? I didn’t feel prepared for real life at all!
When I became a teacher, I realized that I didn’t want my students to focus on the grades as much as the learning. I worked with parents to make them realize the importance of this by sharing with them my experiences. At times I felt that my street-wise students were much smarter than me and even told them that. Many of my students had low self concepts and told me that I was the smartest person they knew. We had many discussions about how book smart doesn’t mean that I’m any better than they are and that they have helped me learn a lot about common sense. It made them feel so proud especially when I told them that I truly believed this.
When I would have an inspiration about teaching a certain topic, I would get all excited. Sometimes my excitement would get the better of me and I would toss the idea out to my students. They loved to help me look at the pros and cons of the idea and offer many useful suggestions. Usually we were able to work out a plan that made us all happy and since they invested time and energy into the project, I had no problem keeping them engaged in the learning. If I took the time to do all of this, the lessons were usually successful!
Do you encourage straight As? Please share why or why not!
Posted on the Successful Teaching Blog by loonyhiker (successfulteaching at gmail dot com).
Original image: 'Put it on the [flickr] fridge' by: Rebecca Bernard


Anonymous said...

I was *not* a straight-A student in H.S. I was the classic underachiever. I even had a teacher write in my yearbook "the only A student I had who made a B." I now teach at an alternative school and such a past comes in handy. I had so many home problems that I just hated school. 20+ years and a military career later, I went back to college and graduated with a 3.49 (with a family).

I now have a straight-A student (born in 1998, age 12 at this writing) at home and I have to constantly remind her to be a kid! She is so self-driven that when she makes anything less than a A she tends to get upset with herself. I have talked to her about making connections between concepts and that it doesn't matter what you get on an assignment if you can't "connect between the dots." And honestly, I believe she does. Sometimes you forget that she is just a kid because of her questions and interests. Back to school...

The kids I work with are surprisingly pretty intelligent. They have been neglected by mainstream teachers because they are troublemakers or zero-tolerance violators (I hesitate to call them drug addicts because those who have drunk alcohol or smoked pot are actually *not* addicts, just stupid kids who got caught trying it once or twice.) Because of this they are judged as malcontents and sat in the back and ignored.

I don't focus on grades. When a kid gets a bad grade, I tell them, "don't stress over the little things." I rarely had a kid flunk a class this last year unless they just didn't put a lick of effort into it. I believe that having a straight-A daughter at home (as well as 2 sons who have IEPs for various learning disabilities and ADHD), and my own past has led me to be a better teacher and more understanding of my student population.

Sorry for the long comment. I saved this to read later and just got back to it after the school year and saw you had no comments and wanted to know you weren't just speaking to the air!

loonyhiker said...

@homeroomteacher Thanks so much for your comments! I like the way you are trying to take the pressure off your own child. I bet your students love you because you really "get it!"