Everyday I have my students journal about a random topic. A couple weeks ago I did a series of prompts on grades, what they mean to students, and if they really measure what students have learned. What I found was surprising.
Most students don't feel grades measured their learning level. Some stated that various teachers were "hard graders," but that didn't mean the students hadn't learned the material. Others believed grades were too subjective to matter and didn't put a lot of stock in them. I was a bit surprised by their answers but totally understood their position.
Next, I asked students when they knew they had learned the material. They said collectively, almost to a student, that they knew they had learned when they could teach another the same concept. Being assigned a grade, in their opinion, didn't truly reflect what they had learned. I found it interesting that they believed they had learned when they could teach--do something hands-on to demonstrate mastery.
We discussed these journal prompts in class and the conversation meandered into one of choice. In our state, three maths and three sciences are required to graduate from high school. The students voiced their objection to this. They didn't object so much to the number of each required but wondered why they weren't given more choice as to WHAT they took. I couldn't answer them. Their statement was, "Not everybody goes to college. It's, like, if we want to go to a trade school we're punished by having to take classes we won't really use. Why don't they let us choose what we take? Why don't schools offer practical math classes that will teach us stuff we'll need in life? Really, will we ever use Algebra II?" Again, I couldn't answer them.
From there we bandied about the ideas of tracking, with one student accurately stating that Germany begins tracking in fourth grade. Although they thought that might be a bit early, no one dissented on the idea of tracking. Their argument was straightforward. If schools want fewer dropouts and fewer absentee problems, give students a choice. Let them make choices about the types of classes they take and offer them more options in the Career and Technical Education department.
I found it surprising they connected choice with attendance. Perhaps more engaged students would find absenting totally unnecessary. Maybe students would like school so much they'd want to stay there if they were given more of a say as to the kinds of classes they took.
We say we are teaching students to become college and career ready, but are we really? If we truly wanted to achieve this goal, wouldn't we allow students a choice in determining their goal of working toward college or career and pick classes reflective of that selection?
It seems odd to me that we say we want one thing, but we almost always do the opposite. Maybe it's time to listen to kids and let them take a more active role in choosing the direction their lives are going to take. Maybe it's time we stop saying teachers need to engage students and offer students classes that will engage them. Maybe it's time we let students have a voice in their own education. Maybe it's time...