A recent social media post read: An eleven-year-old child runs to his dad, flashing his Maths answer sheet. The conversation goes as follows:
Child: Dad! I scored 27 on 30 in Maths! (his voice, quivering with excitement)
Dad: Good! But can we look at the 3 answers that you got wrong?
Child: Of course dad. But can we first look at the 27 answers that I got right?
While this may be a fictitious situation, it definitely is a matter to ponder upon, especially for adults directly responsible for children’s education.
When we, as parents or educators, offer comforting words or negative emotional responses to a child’s academic performance in the secondary school, the message is always there, loud and clear – You need to improve your grades. Irrespective of whether the performance is good or not, this message has a damaging effect.
This is not to debate as to whether or why grades matter, or not; rather, to simply draw attention to a thought that has been occupying my mind for some time.
From flying high to a steep drop or vice versa, children go through the turbulence of a roller coaster ride, not just with their grades, but emotionally too. Much the same as they are wired to feel victorious at even the smallest feats they achieve, their playful innocent hearts are often left with no choice but to accept the perils of presumed defeat– unarmed and bewildered – in the inner battle launched for them by responsible adults though, certainly, with the best intentions.
Middle Years are indeed crucial, for reasons far more important than academic grades. It is widely accepted that the years that bear the beauty of shaping young minds, produce strong imprints through experiences. Seemingly simple peer conversations on the lines of ‘You are so good at Maths; you got an A*. I am terrible in Maths and Science’ tell more than their liking of a subject; rather, it is a subtle expression of their own sense of identity – an identity carved by their achievements, or lack thereof, far from their true selves.
From developing a dislike for certain subjects and distancing themselves from high achievers, to sulking at inadvertent comparisons by parents, teachers or even self, the poor outcome of an assessment speaks of only one familiar story – that of disappointment.
Adapting responses in the form of constructive feedback is an element now effectively incorporated in the academic arena. Perhaps, the act of balancing the process of providing feedback holds the key to our children’s susceptible minds. More specifically, how far it eventually prepares our children to acknowledge the reality would turn out to be significant. After all, in real life, outcome invariably remains proportionate to the performance.
Should the expectation to perform always boil down to marking up and down? Shouldn’t our children be trained to just keep their focus on skills to attain curricular learning as they inch closer to high school where they arrive battle ready with ample confidence to gain possession of The Grades – the grades that may not by then have the power to sway their true identities, but instead help chart their path towards a solid foundation for a successful future?
Or, in terms of negotiating the practicality, would it not be possible to limit the assessments to 2-3 subjects as they first step into the middle school? And cumulatively include the rest of the subject assessments before they reach the high school level? Or better still, provide an assessment method to choose from?
Children in their primary years do not go through the demands of the grading system, and thus, for the most part remain unscathed of its vacillating power to toy with their sense of self-worth. Despite perfect transition arrangements in place, at least a few children end up struggling to fit into the big shoes that the secondary school offers proudly yet expectantly.
Even with the best of remedial support, the need to push themselves to narrow the ability vs achievement gap takes tremendous mental energy, persistence and strong motivation.
As young as they are, how many 11 to 12-year-olds can endure the same? Would it not be apt to liken this expectation to very well saying, ‘Hey budding adolescent, welcome to the exciting new journey – a learning zone that is safe and sound, only that this ambitious zone of yours would be fenced by assessments, markings and gradings. Put on your armour and charge!’
In their quest to achieve triumph, let the fighting spirit in our children never fade out. Let the armour of knowledge protect them against the burden of academic judgement. Let their bustling, blossoming minds bloom to the fullest!