Sunday, September 29, 2013

What If We Were All This Brave? | September 27, 2013

Jen Teal

It seems as though my students are finally finding their groove. They get what it means to be scored based on criteria; they realize that low scores now won't necessarily mean low scores later; and they are enjoying the fact that their homework is not graded.

And yet, I still hear...
"What if it sounds stupid?"
"What if I do it wrong?"
"What if I don't finish?"
"What if I get a bad grade?"

In my head, I passionately respond, "Who cares?" But I recognize that they might misconstrue those words. What I want to say is, "This is your learning. Don't let other people tell you whether your learning sounds smart, correct, finished, or up-to-par. This is your education. Claim it!"

But then I remember that they are 14, 15, 16, maybe 17 years old, and I am asking a lot. Was I brave enough, at 14, to turn in an assignment that was only half way done? Was I brave enough to show rough drafts of writing to my classmates? Was I brave enough to not let other people's judgments of my work affect my learning? Half the time I'm not brave enough now!

So instead of saying, "Who cares?" I found myself saying “Be brave” to one young lady on Monday. She sat for twenty minutes in front of her computer screen as three classmates (not friends) typed feverishly into a shared google doc about the distinctive characteristics of exceptional short stories. Every 5 minutes or so, I walked by and said, "Be brave." And when, finally, she started typing, she realized what she'd been missing.

Because it's scary to take risks in your learning when you think the answer might be wrong. It's terrifying to put your ideas out there when you think your writing doesn't sound as sophisticated as that of your peers. But it feels so good when you realize you're not alone. Empowered Learning forces students to take ownership of their learning but gives them the freedom to learn and grow from others. It's electric.

I'll end with a few thoughts from my students in response to a quick (anonymous) reflection about collaboration when the practice isn't graded:

I like this system a lot, because I don’t have to feel alone when I don’t know an answer or like I don’t have anyone who can help me. You can really talk and “bounce” ideas off each other. The answers in this system are supposed to be thoughtful, thorough and well written and your peers can really help with that. This way, I just have to try my best and then the outcome is me learning what I need to do better. I feel that I’m able to almost take more risks in class and experiment with different ideas and explanations that I would have never done if I knew that it may impact my grade in a negative way.

What if we were all this brave?