I warn my readers now: some of what I write today might not be the most popular with many people, but I feel this is an important topic in need of being addressed with families and students, in particular.
Every year, I have at least one (and usually several more than one) student(s) who asks me a question I truly despise: is this good enough for a 100? This dreaded question has already been presented to me a couple of times this school year and I am sure I will be asked it many more times before June. Every time a student questions me in this manner, I respond the same way: I honestly don't care about the grade, I care that you learn the tools and techniques being taught in the lesson. If you are only concerned about the grade, I provided a rubric. Have you compared your work against it? If you learn the tools and techniques, the grade will follow. Now, allow me to explain this response.
Over the years, while working in education and before, I have seen a shift in mentality among policy makers, educational institutions (both higher learning and secondary schools in particular but it is now creeping into primary schools as well), parents and students. Once upon a time, a grade was supposed to indicate both what you currently know and what you need to spend more time focusing on in order to be prepared for what is to come. Nothing more, nothing less. These days, that thought has morphed into all that matters is the final number.
The message started at the federal level and has been working its way down through local educational policy makers for several years now. All students should expect to attend college. And, colleges tend to use each student's final average as their overall (or at least major) indicator for acceptance vs. rejection. So, it is understandable that the grade has become the focus for many parents and students alike. Every parent wants their child to be successful and in today's world, attending a good college often coincides with this desire, although it is not the only way to be successful. But, of equal importance, should be a deep understanding of the material being taught. If a student only learns in order to receive a grade, they are not looking at the larger picture and are not truly prepared for later classes or activities that build upon the earlier lessons while in high school. Quite often, they end up lacking the basic understanding that college/university professors assume their students already have based on their acceptance to the school. What results from only having a relationship with this information on a surface level is that these students typically struggle over time. In other words, when only the numerical grade is the most important feature of learning, students are being set up for a hard fall later on and possibly failure.
In order to succeed in my classes, students need to have a deep understanding of the tools and techniques presented to them in my lessons. This starts in their first class with me, Scientific Visualization, and continues straight through the following years if they decide to stick with the Game Art & Design concentration. In Sci Vis, students learn the basics of visualization techniques: how to effectively communicate visually through the use of design elements/principles and the basics of working with digital 2D graphics tools (Photoshop and Illustrator) as well as 3D tools (3ds Max). In subsequent years, those skills are reinforced, not retaught, in order to deepen the students' understanding of them while new tools and techniques are added to their list of skills, tools and techniques they need to master. If a student has only learned the material on a surface level to get a good grade, they will struggle throughout their remaining time in my classes. I have seen this in action time-and-time again. Will they pass the class? Quite likely as they have earned the grade and district policy puts such a high weight on the final exam. But they will struggle to keep up in subsequent classes.
When a student is fully engaged in their lessons, even if they are only successful with a portion of it, they realize the importance of learning the information presented on a much deeper level. They see the interconnections between what we are doing in class and what they want to do for a career down the road. And, they commonly make a conscious effort to overcome their deficiencies so they continue to grow, even if they know doing so will not effect their grade. And, because they have or develop a passion for what they are learning in my classes, they tend to enjoy the work we do more than those who are only focused on the grade.
I am a high school Career & Technical Education (CTE) teacher located in Durham, NC with a focus on game art and design. This blog provides a place for reflection on relevant classroom practices.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not represent those of my employer or anyone else associated with Durham Public Schools.