Wouldn’t it be fun if we could just teach and the kids could just learn whatever they wanted to? The classroom would be buzzing as everyone investigated topics that fascinated them. I’ve had a taste of this for the first two weeks of school. We have experienced learning with no pressure. This joyous time may come to an end next week as I begin to hold my students accountable with grades. As soon as I mention the word test, I’m sure my students will begin to show me their fear of failure.
In the lower grades students often don’t even have grades, but use checks, smilies, and letters such as V, S, N. In third grade students are introduced to the A-F grading system and learn that grades are important to adults. In our state students have the added stress of hearing that if they don’t pass the end of the year test they will “Flunk” third grade. The students quickly learn that grades are something to be fearful of, or at the very least, something to be very nervous about receiving.
Now, I know grades aren’t all bad, because they can be great motivators for smart kids. However, they can become anchors for students who have struggled. With all of this in mind, I have been working hard the last two weeks to establish the culture that the reason we are all at school is to learn and not to earn grades. I hope to take some of the fear of failure out of our educational experience.
I gave a pretest today to gauge where my students were in division. Those who have listened to their teachers and learned multiplication over the past two years have had no problem learning what I have been teaching them. Others that never got around to learning multiplication are having a terrible time with division. I now have a week to teach my students what they didn’t learn over the past two years. Regardless of the educational background of my students, I work hard to assure that my student’s first experience in my class produces some success.
One technique that I use to avoid test anxiety is to give students the chance to retake any of their assessments that they do poorly on and then average the new score with the old. This won’t make a poor student a straight “A” student. However, it takes some of the fear out of tests, because the test does not become an end, but a springboard to another learning experience.
It is my hope that the fear of failure will be removed from my students by providing them the ability to earn the grade they want through hard work in addition to their smarts. For me, I have seen far more people in the real world be successful by working hard than by being successful, because they were a stellar student. When we have cultivated our student’s desire to learn, we will have achieved more success than any grading system can assess.
(In the comments below, please tell me how you help students avoid the fear of failure)