Relevance: 2019 Blog Challenge #2

Teaching relevance.  Relevance is defined as knowing why something matters or how it is important.  Our Top 20 lesson today was on relevance- the top 20 see the star quality development in the things we have to do, even the boring classes.  The bottom 80 don’t. I had my students read pages 87 and 88 in out Top 20 book in groups of 3 this morning. We discussed the important take-a-ways. All of them understood the relevance of their classes at school- and they all agreed that top 20’s are able to find the star qualities in their classes- even the ones they don’t care for or struggle in.  Yet, every one of them hangs out in the bottom 80 when it comes to actually participating in those classes.


Why is this?  I have my own ideas, and no, I’m not going to blame social media, or video games or parents.  I think for too long we have had expectations of our students that “average” is the same as a grade of “A.”  You, know, that small town in Minnesota where everyone is above average? The math teacher in me points out that for there to be an “average” there needs to be people above and below the average.  I remember a college professor grading our class on a curve- 10 % got an A and 10% got an F. He also made the comment that all the people who got C’s would have gotten an A in his class held on campus (This particular class was an evening course off campus with mostly second-career type students). I was flabbergasted!  You could do the same quality work and have a much lower grade based on the make up of the class. I think often times our grading has been the other extreme. We give students an A for the average work- or we allow extra credit to bump up a grade to keep the parents happy. Grades are the little treats handed out for compliance, not as a measure of learning.  I really struggle with the students who have straight A’s in my classes then score partially meets or does not meet on our MCA’s. I know, it’s one test, one day, doesn’t measure everything that is taught, etc, etc. But an A student should be able to pass a grade level test!


This idea has been haunting me for years. A few years back I heard Rick Wormeli talk about Standards based grading.  I started it in my classroom 6 years ago. The biggest push-back I get is from the parents of students who have been A students who suddenly are getting C’s and D’s because homework doesn’t help their grade.  These students can re-take assessments to bring their grades up, but often don’t take the time because the grade- or the relevance of learning- isn’t all that important to them. On the other hand, there are students who really are using top 20 star qualities and look at their mistakes as learning opportunities and who do re-take assessments and improve their learning.  I think the whole topic of how we grade and what each grade means needs to be discussed on every level- grade level, school level and district level.


We’ll continue with the relevance lesson next week, I’ll be interested to know if any of my advisees have found some star qualities to develop in their least favorite classes.

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