“You haven’t taught until they have learned.” Sage advice from legendary basketball coach John Wooden, who credits his time as an English teacher with shaping his coaching philosophy.
For the first five or so years of my teaching career, students had one shot to demonstrate their mastery of subject. If a student failed to complete an assignment, the “logical” consequence was a zero. If an extremely capable student earned a C or below because of a lack of effort, then that’s the mark that went into my grade book. Or so I reasoned.
My thinking and my grading system were seriously flawed. If the students couldn’t demonstrate their learning, had I really taught them?
Assigning students zeroes or unsatisfactory grades doesn’t teach responsibility; rather it teaches students that they don’t have to do the assignment. If it’s worth assigning a grade, students—and teachers—must see the value in ensuring that each student does his/her best on that assignment. As educators we must constantly communicate that we see the potential of each and every student and hold them to high expectations.
Here’s where NOT YET comes in to play. No longer would I let students off the hook by giving them a zero or a grade below C. No longer would I accept less than a student’s best effort.
I’ve previously written about why zeroes make no sense, so here I’ll focus on the not yets for students who turn in work that doesn’t reflect their abilities.
How did Not Yets Work?
Simply, D’s and F’s were removed from my grading; instead students would receive a “not yet” or “work in progress.” Students would no longer be punished for not achieving mastery; rather feedback was provided and students were given an opportunity to relearn and demonstrate their knowledge and skills again.
Some students scoffed at the idea, “C’mon, just give me the D.”
I held firm, “I believe in you. I know what you’re capable of and this isn’t it.” Again a Wooden quote epitomized my new philosophy, “Success is the peace of mind which is a direct result of the self-satisfaction in knowing that you have made the effort to become the best of which you are capable.”
By providing students with meaningful feedback and giving them the opportunity to improve, they seized the opportunity to learn from their errors and approached the assignment in new ways with more effort. Instead of allowing less than their best, students were provided with the opportunity to reflect and adjust so they can learn from the situation and meet the learning objective.
Yes, it meant more work for me, but was I really teaching if they hadn’t learned it?