Learn Like a Pirate {Improvement Focus vs. Grade Focus}

Hey there, Pirate Friends!  I've been hooked on this book since I picked it up but this chapter really spoke to my heart.  I can't really explain why but I believe that it just plays to my special education side.  In special education, you see kids work hard day in and day out.  They make progress but may not always see or feel the results of their hard work.  Report card day for a special education teacher is often a disappointing day.  I hate seeing the faces of my students when they see a D or F in reading despite the crazy amount of effort that they put in to doing well.

In this chapter, Paul used the I in his PIRATE acronym to represent Improvement Focus vs. Grade Focus.  He says, "Start by downplaying grades and placing priority on personal improvement---shift the focus from external motivation to internal motivation."  While that sounds perfect, I am realistic.  I know that I can't just stop assigning grades.  I still need a system for giving grades that is truly reflective of their mastery of grade level standards.  BUT, I think that as teachers, it is our job to communicate with both the students and their parents that in the end, improving themselves is the ultimate goal.  I had a special education student at one point in time who was punished for her poor grades.  She was the hardest working little thing you've ever seen.  If I could find a way to bottle her ability to never give up, I'd be a millionaire!  Yet, she was always grounded because of her report card.  What kind of lesson are we teaching her?

Instead of focusing on grades, we need to remember that it is our job to prepare our students for REAL LIFE!  To quote Paul, "Remember education in your classroom isn't only about this year or even next year, it's about the people your students will grow into."  (Solarz, 80)  I feel the need to repeat that last sentence again....just because I love it.
"It's about the people your students will grow into."
Let's help our students grow into people who are self reflective and willing to make changes to better themselves.  Let's help our students grow into people who are able to notice their progress and take pride in it!  And last but not least, let's develop students (and parents :)) who don't allow a student's self worth be determined by a letter on a report card.  

Paul also shared a VERY interesting perspective that I had seriously NEVER thought of.  When I think of taking a focus off of grading and onto improvement, I usually always think of the strugglers in my room.  But take a minute to think about the message that you are sending to your students who earn straight As, or even the occasional B, with little effort.  Are we telling them that improvement isn't necessary because they already have an A?  Are we telling them that with little effort, they can be "perfect"?  Are we teaching them that they no longer have to improve themselves, afterall they have an A?  Whether we intend to or not, we are.  And I don't know about your classroom, but in mine, even my highest students have room for improvement.

So how do we make this shift?  How do we retrain our students, their parents, and even ourselves?  How do we find ways to focus on improvement?  Here are a few of Paul's suggestions.

1.  Improving through Effective Feedback:  By constantly observing students, you will always be able to give pertinent feedback.  I can't help but think of teacher evaluations here.  You know...when your principal comes in once a year and then bases your entire year's evaluation on ONE lesson.  Don't do this to your students.  Be moving around your room all. the. time.  Be constantly communicating strengths and areas of improvement at all time.  Paul also suggests communicating feedback in the present or future tenses.  He says, "Rather than saying: 'You shouldn't have done it this way, you should've done it this way.'  Say this: 'Next time, I'd like you to do it this way because...' Or 'Can you try this way instead?' Or, 'Are you displaying good leadership skills right now, or could you do better?'" (Solarz, 84)

I'll admit, I'm guilty of speaking in the past tense.  We are only sending the message that their mistakes are not "fixable".

2.  Improving Classroom Behavior: Paul has repeatedly stressed that behavior problems are not typically a concern in his classroom.  He believes that is because he is giving them the power and attention that many students often seek.  Therefore, if you are giving them control of their own learning, you are taking away the need for them to seek it in other ways.  He also discusses his use of the "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" to teach his students how to become better members of  is classroom.

3.  Improving Results and Retention: Paul discusses many ways to increase results and retention, such as ePortfolios and Thinking Deeper questions.  I really believe that the biggest focus on this aspect is to SLOW DOWN.  I know that's hard to actually do with the pressure of high stakes testing but seriously.  When you speed through every single standard or skill, your students aren't retaining the knowledge to the level that they need. 

4.  Improving Independent Thinking and Collaborations with Homework Club:  In Paul's classroom, he utilizes a Homework Club.  During designated times during the day, students are welcome to come to Paul's room and work together on various projects, receive help from the teacher or fellow students, or simply just use that time to work on homework.  This opportunity allows students to manage their time, collaborate with others, and receive additional help that they might not otherwise receive. 

5.  Critical Peer Feedback---Quality Boosters:  This category is something that I truly can't wait to begin implementing into my classroom.  I already have several ideas bouncing around in my head about how I can begin teaching my students how to provide their classmates with valuable feedback.  Paul believes that "students need to know how to give critical peer feedback in a way that [is] constructive and honest but still kind and esteem-building.  Second, but equally important, they [need] to learn to accept critical feedback as an attempt to help them improve."  I believe that this is something that I and many others lack in their classrooms.  We spend a lot of time sugar coating weaknesses.  And heaven forbid a student tell another student about a way to improve a project or assignment.  I believe that we need to train ourselves and our students to both give and receive quality feedback.  

Shew!  That was a long post.  I hope you're still with me!  But to be fair, I really warned you that this chapter spoke to my heart!


4 comments:

  1. Amanda - I loved your thorough post! Thanks for sharing how this spoke to you. I, too, am severely guilt of speaking in a past tense when providing feedback to my students. I am going to make it a point to change this for the upcoming school year by practicing with my own son starting today. It is sooo important for students/children to know that mistakes are a part of the learning process and that there are always opportunities to change.
    Amanda
    The Take Home Teacher

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  2. I also loved the quote you used "it's about the people your students wI'll grow into!" Such a powerful reminder of why we do what we do!

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  3. I also loved the quote you used "it's about the people your students wI'll grow into!" Such a powerful reminder of why we do what we do!

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  4. I also loved the quote you used "it's about the people your students wI'll grow into!" Such a powerful reminder of why we do what we do!

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