Nothing to Lose

you have nothing to lose by Señor Codo
you have nothing to lose, a photo by Señor Codo on Flickr.

I know that in #PSD70 there has been a lot of talk about “Innovation Week”. This year, two of our division schools staged Innovation Week during the last week before Christmas break, Greystone Centennial Middle School and the school that my husband teaches at, Muir Lake School. The idea is a great one: students take the week to learn, research and create based on a topic of their choice. Teachers give feedback and discuss and guide students in their work, but the work itself is not formally assessed. They learn in the way they want to learn about the things that they are interested in and produce a number of innovative and exciting projects.
My husband, Cam, thoroughly enjoyed his experience with his first Innovation Week. Friday night after school, while sitting around the dinner table, we were discussing this with our two boys, aged 10 and 7. Cam told us about many of the different projects and how they worked out. He spoke of the enjoyment of the students and the ownership that they felt. Then we all came up with ideas for what we would like to study or learn/produce if we were given a week to do so.

At first, my boys parroted what their dad had just told us. When we encouraged them to think about something that hadn’t been done yet, something that was rooted in their own interests, the conversation took an interesting turn. After throwing around some neat, original ideas, our 10 year old asked, “How is this going to be marked?” (Not going to lie, I was pretty happy he asked that question). When I replied that it wasn’t being marked, he was shocked and he said something that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about. He said,

“You mean I’d have nothing to lose? Oh ya…I would do that for sure then.”

Nothing to lose.

My son who is just in 5th grade sees school, or at least assessment, as a place/time where he has something to lose. How often has he finished an assignment or project being worried about what marks he will lose rather than what knowledge or skills he has gained? I was bothered by that comment, but didn’t address it immediately as I had to think through what my response would be. Isn’t this just what we are trying to move away from in education? My son enjoys school for the most part, but I must say, he is not highly motivated. Could it be that he is not just “a bit lazy” as we have always thought, but demotivated by the impact of grades and “old school” assessment? I think it could be.

In the meantime, I started thinking about my own students and how they view what goes on in the our classroom. Right away I could pick out a handful of kids who were focused on what they would “lose” when preparing a project or presentation of some sort. I’d never thought about it in that context before. I could see them asking themselves,

“How much should I risk here? If I risk, and fail, I will lose marks so I am just going to stick to the basics and do what everyone else is doing.”

I don’t think I have emphasized enough that they should take more risks and that failure is the best way to learn. Starting in January, that is going to be my target for my classroom; to change the frame that my students are looking through so that they never fear what they “have to lose” but strive for what there is to gain. As for my son, we need to help him reframe his education as well. My questioning and guidance in both situations is going to take on a different look. We must also look into coordinating an Innovation Week at our school and providing times for my own children to explore learning and creating for the sake of learning and creating.

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8 thoughts on “Nothing to Lose

  1. Your “new year’s resolution” is so encouraging, Marci! I think PSD is making some great strides in realizing the goal of learning and creating for the “sake of learning and creating”, rather than for the “sake of a mark”. Innovation Week is definitely a great way to address this outcome; fulfilling it the other 39 weeks of the school year will be a beautiful thing!
    I truly believe that it can be done, even within the context of the curriculum. I’m reminded of an article that discusses how our brains are more engaged when we are “solving a problem” than when we are “given a task to complete.” Finding meaningful ways to “problemetize” the curriculum (i.e. posing open-ended questions that require students to make a decision) helps students decrease the focus on marks as they increase their focus on solving the problem – and they learn the content more deeply as part of the process. Co-creating the sucess criteria, then using the criteria to inform specific formative feedback from the teacher, coaching from peers, and on-going self-assessment opens the door for risk-taking because there are many opportunities along the way to make improvements- it’s not about the final mark, it’s about the opportunity to learn and nurture skill development along the way.
    I always gain so much from your posts, Marci. I really value how self-reflective you are, and how you are continually striving to improve your practice for the sake of your students.

    • Thanks for your comment, Diane. I agree with you completely! I do think that the paradigm shift is still being made for many people in all areas of education. We have all been so entrenched in a “mark” based mindset that getting out of it is a bit of a trudge. My mantra has been to always “deal with what I can control” so that means I have to do more to explain to students and parents what our actual goals are for them and their education. I’m getting there, I think. If I can frame everything in my classroom around the question “what have I gained?”, hopefully I can help them move away from “what is my mark?” or in other words “how much have I lost?”.Honestly, I am more motivated just talking about it! Hopefully the kids are too.

  2. Brilliant Marci! This particular topic is hot and heavy in the US right now. All of our education models are test-based or assessment based. I could speak volumes on the issue and how the system is specifically biased against those students from low-income families. I read a good book recently called “The Reign Of Error” discussing the foils of the US Public School System and why its in the state its in. Many cities have moved toward privatization and charter schools. Andmost rrecently our beloved leader, Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, insulted 90% of the nation when he responded to a mother’s concern about standards-based assessment by saying that American mothers aren’t going to like it because they will finally have to admit that their children aren’t as smart as they thought they were…etc. The state of education in the US is a mess and our children are suffering because of it. Very very sad!

    • Thanks for commenting Theresa! I have heard and read much about the state of education in the U.S.A and it doesn’t sound good to me at all! We have very similar issues here although I would say to a much lesser extent. I am continually appalled by the fact that the people making these huge decisions about education are not anywhere near a classroom or school and haven’t been for a long long time. People have such a hard time with change and I feel that a lot of the push back comes from not fully understanding WHY we need to look at assessment differently. I no longer use tests at all in my Social Studies classes. I feel that it has lead to more meaningful learning and more awareness as to what they are actually supposed to be learning. Still, I can do better. Thanks again for reading my blog!

  3. Can’t believe I am just reading this now! Great post Marci, I am glad as a parent you appreciate the benefits for your children and as an educator the benefit for your students. Thanks for taking the time to share this.

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