Monday, May 16, 2016
Grit and Longing
David Brooks writes, in his recent New York Times op ed, Putting Grit in its Place: "We all know why it exists, but the grade-point average is one of the more destructive elements in American education."
A pretty brazen statement! And one that propelled his essay onto innumerable news feeds to be shared, tweeted, and discussed over the last week. Thanks, David, for framing the discussion and suggesting that "people are happiest when motivated intrinsically..." "the G.P.A.," Brooks observes, "is the mother of all extrinsic motivations."
Reading these remarks in the New York Times, is validating. Especially on a day like today (Friday the 13th and a full moon), when intrinsic motivation is somewhat flagging.
Brooks and I share the idea that it's not grit, necessarily, that we are after in teaching and learning, but intrinsic motivation for thinking, learning and doing. Since grades can undermine intrinsic motivation, I look for other ways to support learning and growth. I want my students to "fall in love" with an idea, process, special tool, or medium. But on days like today, when students are sensing that the end is near, it can be more challenging than usual to cast a love-potion.
Usually I allow artwork to be finished when it is finished, not on any schedule beyond the artist's pace and idea of completion. When one piece is done, it's time to begin the next. In this way, our bi-weekly reflection/share/critique sessions feature both finished work and work-in-progress. Today all work was supposed to be complete (after a three week period of exploration, practice and preparation). About half was. About a quarter was, in my estimation, work students were proud of.
On days when students are blatantly under-performing, I have the urge to say "you realize you are failing this class," but I don't grade students or artwork in our program, so this extrinsic motivator is not available. And a good thing too, because when we get to that point, a student has two possible responses: 1. "So what? You can't hurt me." or 2. "Yikes! I better shape up and do what she wants!"
And I don't want either of these responses. I want the work to come out of what Brooks describes as "longing."
So that is my homework, as I head off on this Friday afternoon: how best to kindle some longing in my students?