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  • Writer's pictureDave Driver

Like Falling Off a Bike

Let me ask you something. When you were a kid, when you learned things; how to ride a bike, tie your shoes, play catch, bail out of a swing, climb a tree, feed the dog, etc . . . Did you receive a report card? A letter grade?

“Sally, you earned a C+ on bike riding today. A bit wobbly, but an enjoyable learner”, mom joylessly intoned.

Of course you didn’t get a letter grade. Instead, you got scraped knees, loose shoes, fat lips, the willies in your stomach, and too much food on the floor. And you know what else you got? You got better. You got honest praise. And you got a smile on your face because you did it. You did it. And it didn’t take a report card for you to know it. You knew when you didn’t get it and you knew the instant you finally did. Remember that feeling? Remember when you finally rode your bike, or first jumped out of a swing? Of course you do, and I bet you’re smiling on the inside right now, recalling fondly the uneven road to learning something new.

I believe schools today are making the road too smooth. We are a standards based and a grades based nation, and that has caused us to change our emphasis. Student use terms like, “I passed!” or “I got an A!”, when they should really be exclaiming, “I did it!” Can a grade tell you what they learned? Can it tell you what they can do now that they couldn’t before? There’s a huge difference between, “I got an A!” and “I did it!” And there’s a different style of teaching that elicits each of these responses.

One style emphasizes teaching, the other style emphasizes doing. One style tells them what to learn, the other teaches them how. There are successful styles in between, where admittedly I find myself. Each year I venture farther out to the how style, yet still holding on too much to the teaching style. It’s safer to tell them what to learn, but it’s time for me to scrape my knees and spill too much dog food on the floor as I launch out on how to let them figure it out for themselves.

By the way, do you still know how to ride a bike? Nice job, you get to keep your A.

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