A non-educator in whom I have unparalleled respect for was recently sharing her concerns over her son’s “young” teacher. Her son (Johnny) was coming home complaining about his teacher’s inability to teach and while she reserved judgment at the time, she better understood Johnny’s plight after seeing how disorganized and scattered the teacher was at “Parent’s Night”. She went on a bit about how Johnny was right, that this young teacher just didn’t have the tools to be a good teacher, and then she said this:
“But Johnny got a B+, so he is getting it.”
I wanted to ask, “getting what?” but this was neither the time nor the place to do so.
But, there in lies the problem. She assumed that Johnny’s B+ was indicative of his learning – that he was, in her words, “getting it” with the “it” presumably being the content. I don’t blame her for thinking that way. We have been trained to think that way through decades of institutional schooling. A few weeks ago, I asked folks to help me define what a “B” means. A quick look at the replies to that post – including a class full of Patrick Larkin’s students in Burlington – shows a wide variety of beliefs as to what a “B” means. But what is most compelling about their replies isn’t what they wrote, it’s what they didn’t.
No one suggested that the “B” represented their learning.
Until grades indicate that, we should never say that a B+ is “getting it.”