Now that I'm a parent, helping my kids with their homework, I am considering for the first time in my life what it really means to focus on a grade. I mean, is it really better to ace all your tests in school?
The focus was on the end goal, and everything you did up to that point only mattered if it resulted in a high enough quality product and earned a good grade.
Here's the problem: I skimmed over everything. I did enough, but only just. I scanned pages looking for good quotes for my research paper. I read literature as fast as I could to grasp enough for the quiz. I crammed during lunch because that would help me remember more for the test than studying calmly the night before would have. Technically, I made the grade, but I now feel like I could have learned much more if I had been taught to value the process, the steps involved in delving into a subject for the purpose of understanding, not regurgutation.
I heard once that school is where you learn how to learn. No, you don't need geometry for most real-life situations, but you do need the tenacity you learned battling through all those difficult homework assignments. No, you don't need to recognize a literary work by the author's style, but you do need to have a grasp of written language that surpasses the spoken jargon in order to effectively communicate and understand in a fast paced world. We spend our childhood and adolescence honing our ability to absorb, manipulate, and employ information...or so we say.
Except we don't. At least I didn't. I learned how to succeed in a system that valued the little bits of data I could spit out at the right time. I made the grade. But I am sure that other "less successful" students learned more than me.
So I want to teach my kids the value of learning, not performing. I want to celebrate every day's homework successfully completed, especially when it was frustrating. I want them to learn to reflect on the topic at hand, waiting before leaping toward the answer. Whatever the grade turns out to be, I want them to know that I am proud of their efforts, their focus, their questions, their struggles. I don't care how the teacher evaluates your specific wording of that essay; I'm proud of the way you considered what you wanted to say and figured out how to articulate the truth. I know you don't like math and that test went south, but I am super proud of how faithful you have been to complete each day's assignment. I want to pinpoint and compliment each part of their little hearts that I see growing and strengthening in the process.
Sure there are specific skills our kids need to learn and having a grade helps us determine how to best pursue that goal. But if school is about learning how to learn, I want to be watchful and catch my children in the act of learning so that I can praise them for it. I want to break down my own tendency to value only results and appreciate the mess and moxie it takes to get there.