Elephants in the Classroom

One of this week’s reading is entitled “9 Elephants in the (Class)Room That Should “Unsettle” Us.” An elephant in an ordinary room is “an obvious problem or difficult situation that people do not want to talk about.”  Every single “elephant” mentioned throughout this article rang with astounding truth. There are too many issues that teachers and administrators are aware of yet won’t make appropriate changes. The two that stood out to me the most were that students almost always forget what they “learn” and grades, not learning is what teachers, parents, and students are focused on.

What students are taught often stays in between their ears only long enough for them to get tested on it. I know this with certainty because whenever I asked my parents for help with homework in high school, they were rarely able to offer any assistance. Even though I am only a sophomore in college, I don’t remember basic science terms or math equations I learned in high school. The only specific aspects I remember about my high school education is the books I read in my English class and some of the projects we did. For students who liked math or science more than English, I’m sure their memories are the exact opposite. I didn’t enjoy these subjects, but I did enough work to get A’s. This brings me to my next point.

In my opinion, caring only about grades is the equivalent to caring only about appearance. The letters A through F are meant to represent a student’s content knowledge, but they mean so much more than that. Most high school students have heard, “Get good grades so you can get into college” at least once in their lives. Grades is how people measure their intelligence and therefore their importance in the world. Low grades tell students that they are not even a little intelligent or important.

This semester, I am enrolled in two classes that don’t give grades until the end of the semester. At first, I was really frustrated by this because I have gotten into the habit of checking my grades regularly. I thought not having any access to my grade might kill me. Fortunately, I’ve had a completely opposite experience, and I’m still standing to tell you about it. I originally assumed not knowing my grade would mean not getting any feedback; however, I was very much mistaken, and not knowing my grades all semester turned out to be a good thing. I became more focused on fulfilling my learning to a standard that satisfied me, not a grading scale.

Although grades may do more damage than good in many cases, they are here to stay. What we as teachers can do, however, is give our students constant, constructive, positive feedback and do our best to instill the mentality that learning matters more than grades do.

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6 Comments

  1. You have a wonderful outlook on some of these issues that we currently face as future educators! While there are certainly obstacles ahead of us, there are some ways we can help to change the norm and make a difference. Are there any specific strategies you can think of that we can use to emphasize the importance of learning and retaining information rather than memorizing for the test and then forgetting?

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    • While these articles can be discouraging, they make me more excited to be a teacher and have the opportunity to make change! And I think one way to support the emphasis of learning rather than getting a good grade is by using a grading method similar to that of this class. I can’t speak for everyone, but because I haven’t been as focused on my grade, I have been focused on digging deeper on articles we have read, Twitter conversations, etc.

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  2. Timmi, it honestly is crazy how alike we think! The contract grading really is a blessing! I am taking two courses this semester, one contract one regular. I have slacked a lot in the traditional course because I could see where a few points here or there wouldn’t matter. This thought process I had, and many other students have, gypped me of my learning. I only hurt myself. But this course really does make you take control over yourself, and prepares us for the “real world” 🙂 Great post!

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  3. Timmi,
    Who would have thought that grades would be more important than the actually understanding of the curriculum from students! I have always been a bad test taker but always managed to keep all A’s and B’s. But I can say I am on the same boat as you. It didn’t matter whether or not I liked the material, I just did whatever it took to get the good grade and moved on. If only teachers cared more on the students retaining of the information and less on the standardized tests schooling would be so much better. I think reading these articles will help us be more like the teachers we wanted to have rather than the teachers we did have!

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