April 9, 2009

An Open Letter to my Students

This post was last updated on January 3rd, 2018 at 11:09 pm

Dear Students,

Because of institutional requirements and societal norms, I’m required to give you a grade. This grade falls between 0-100 and in some way is intended to inform you and others how well you did in this course. The importance that number is given is appalling. While I do my best to provide you with some outcomes, indicators, rubrics and feedback I still feel my assessment of your learning is fairly trivial or at best a thin slice indicator of what you’ve learned.  I realize many would love to believe that the number or grade you get is pure, accurate and will provide future instructors, institutions or employers with an indication of your proficiency, understanding or knowledge. If anyone of these groups were to ask me about you, I could tell them what I’ve seen and observed. That may have value, the grade, not so much.

I also recognized that many of you took charge of your own learning, asking to change assignments, finding alternatives and creating meaning for yourselves. That’s what I wanted. While it wasn’t really an “anything goes” approach we were able to negotiate some ideas about what would be valuable for you to pursue the broad goals and guidelines of this class.

At the beginning of the term, I told you I had 4 goals for you. I wanted you to see that:

  • Learning is social and connected
  • Learning is personal and self-directed
  • Learning is shared and transparent
  • Learning is rich in content and diversity

I hope I succeeded in that. Don’t rank me from 0-100 but provide me with feedback and ideas to make me a better teacher.

As I’ve told you before, you all are the winners in our current system of education. You’ve come through 12+ years of education understanding what it takes to do well in school and please others. There’s nothing wrong with this in principle, however, if that’s all this class is, and the other classes you take, that seems like a waste. That system may have worked for you but it doesn’t work for everyone and certainly continuing to aid students in playing the game of school needs to stop. Personalizing learning and being able to take away clear and not so clear understandings, skills and ideas are what really matters. That doesn’t mean we don’t have to learn specific knowledge and skills but we have to move beyond that. I know that for most of you, you did.

So if you look at that number and it doesn’t make sense to you, I apologize. I try like crazy to make it meaningful but always get frustrated trying to make that happen. In the end, you tell me, what you learned. I would love to be like this guy and give you all A’s. The ranking you makes little sense to me. Helping and guiding you to become better at what you want to do is something I’m deeply committed to. I’m hoping I was able to do that and that we didn’t’ let a little thing like a number get in the way. Your challenge as future educators is to figure out how to minimize the meaning of that number and get your students to learn in spite of that. That won’t be easy. Will we ever have schools that truly model and commit to lifelong learning? I realize I’m dreaming but wouldn’t it be great if we could just learn because we want to?  Idyllic, I know but it’s worth pursuing.

Still learning.

Dean

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