Saturday, March 5, 2011
Trusting the Integrity of Students
I have always chosen to think the best of all my students. I guess it ties into my faith in humanity. And despite my disappointment with recent national events (such as FOX News' unbelievable attacks on teachers), I continue to believe that 99 percent of the people in this world are good and fair. This 99 percent includes my students; thus, I try to just talk honestly with them, and I believe this is a sound strategy that yields the best results.
Let me illustrate...
In my district, teachers are required to have an independent reading element as part of the English curriculum of each course. I have always disliked such requirements. Yes, the value of reading independently is overwhelmingly supported by research. My misgivings stem from the fact that it is just too difficult to effectively hold students accountable for the reading. The plain truth is, students lie. They will read the book jacket and turn that into some phony project. They will fake entries in book logs. These are not terrible kids; they are normal kids, but if there is no clear accountability evaluation in place, they will cheat, and the cheating is so prevalent, it invalidates the value of the curriculum requirement.
So, I face a dilemma. I am required to implement a curriculum piece with which I have philosophical disagreement. Like all good teachers, though, I have tried to make the best of it. This year I utilized an Independent Reading Wiki where my students blog about their independent reading and comment on the reading of others. The goal is to create a "cyber coffee shop--thing---" where students have intellectual discussions about what they are reading. Friday was our final blog for this quarter, and I simply announced this to the students:
"Now, one thing I do ask is that you have some integrity. If you haven't read a book this quarter, please don't waste my time evaluating your blog which is some phony conversation about a book you read in sixth grade. If you haven't read a book, you are not a bad person, and really, it's a small portion of your grade. Having integrity, I think, is more impressive than an A." I also noted I wouldn't be evaluating these until Spring Break, which is a week away. I just was allocating class time this Friday only.
Here comes the impressive part. Are you ready? They have integrity.
I had several students openly admit to me they hadn't read a book. Some said they will be reading and wondered if they could blog after they read. That was fine, I said, since I wouldn't be reading these until Break. These excellent young people wish to do well, and they wish to have integrity. Isn't that great? And to me, it is no surprise.
Another group of students flatly admitted they have no intention of reading a book. I asked them to do the second half of the assignment: read the blogs of at least 5 other students and respond to those blogs. This way they are at least thinking about other books and are aware other students DO read. I know I am a dreamer, but I hope they may read something that intrigues them and maybe....just maybe....they will go out and get the book. Crazy, huh?
You see, what I am trying to teach students is that school isn't about GRADES--it's about LEARNING. This is a hard sell, too, for students feel completely measured by grades. For many, that's why they are in class: for a grade. What I am trying to foster in my classroom is authentic learning. I am MOST interested in what my students think about what we study--not just the material itself. This is also a hard sell to some students, for many just want the test and out of the room.
But Friday, my faith in them was validated. Are some cheating? You bet. But I gave many the chance to have integrity AND success. And young people do want to have both.
Photo courtesy of www.theschoolforheroes.com