“When we give ourselves permission to fail, we, at the same time, give ourselves permission to excel.” - Eloise Ristad
Recently I've seen an increase of articles that address the importance of students learning to fail. There are a lot of really amazing writers addressing the overall topic in ways that are thoughtful and interesting. If you're interested, just do a search for "the benefits of failure in school." You'll get some great results.
I wanted to go a step further and talk about how this is reflected in grades. Much to the chagrin of peers and maybe a few teachers, I would rather my students get C's and B's on work than A's. You're probably already cringing at the idea. Don't worry, you're not alone. The culture around grades has been so ingrained in us that we internally assign these alphabet letters emotional value that goes well beyond academics. I'll counter with this question ... how easy would it be for me to ensure your kid gets an A?
The answer is simple. It's too easy. Without much work I could assign work that ensures your students brings home A's, gold stars and tons of smiley faces. Voila! I look like an amazing teacher.
The problem is that while it seems grand, it means that each student is being set up for failure. These accolades make everyone feel great. At least in the moment they do. While these grades feel great in the moment and build initial confidence, they do not teach students the value of work.
When a student gets an A, it tell me they knew 100 percent of the material they were tested on. This implies mastery. Mastery is an indication that the work is easy for the student. Work at school should rarely be easy. It should be fun. It should be interesting. It should not be easy.
At any given moment, we should be challenging students. That means that every time I see an A, I see a missed opportunity to challenge a student. Each A represents an area where the work is below the level needed to make it a learning opportunity. Each A is a note that students are doing work they already know.