Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Open letter

Dear student who wrote in an email Sunday, "I was just wondering if there was anything I could do to raise my grade as the semester starts to come to a close,"

Thank you for checking in. I have fielded countless requests like yours over the years, online and in person, from students as well as their families. Few, though, have come from a learner who's earning an A as you are.

Part of me wants to pat you on the back while I marvel at your ceaseless drive to improve. Another part of me seeks a more consoling gesture as I fret whether your fragile learning motor might wear under apparent strain. (Time for my own wondering: How accurate is your perception of how you're doing in our class, anyway?)

Let's celebrate the forest you've cultivated before we get lost in the trees that debatably delineate, say, 92 from 94 percent. While I am confident more remains for you to learn, I am less sure these steps will elevate your grade in noticeable, calculable ways. For instance, you tend towards the taciturn, so what if you took a more active role contributing in class? Or, since you embrace your comfort zone by usually working with the same partners or reading similar genres of books, what if you took controlled risks to try new things? Would stretches like those lead to new experiences and capacities? I believe so. Would they boost your grade? No guarantee there. Then again, imperfect grades have never been able to circumscribe all the learning that we do.

So, stay motivated and curious. Even as you aim your critical eye at how to improve your game more than your grade, make sure those eyes recognize successes and growth, too, which merit celebrating.

Your teacher


  1. Brian, this is a very thoughtful letter back to the student. I am glad that your thoughts center around the process rather than the grade.

  2. What a great reminder that it isn't the end result but the learning the occurs along the way.

  3. You are an outstanding educator! This student is lucky to have you.

  4. These are not always easy conversations, but they are so important.

  5. I love your voice in writing and your way with words (I always learn new ones reading your posts! Ha!) Your approach is right on. When I was in school, I wanted good grades so I could get a high class ranking and maybe a scholarship. Now I see that it really is the learning that matters more than 92 vs 94. Did you really send this? And what was the student's response?

    1. Thanks for the compliment, Kathleen. What befuddles me slightly is reactions like the one I describe even though my school doesn't ultimately report numbers at the end of the semester, just whole letter grades -- not even pluses or minuses.

      I'm planning to print the letter and share it with the student Wednesday. "Thinking abut your email, I was inspired to write this," I'll say. "What do you think?"

  6. Hypothetical or actual, you've presented multiple sides of a wonderful dilemma. How do students learn to learn to want to learn as much as possible & that grades are merely a/the catalyst?! You've correctly advised that students must experiment (stretch themselves?) & in so doing, become better regardless of a/the literal 'grade'. Logically & marvelously explained. Kudos to you & your mentors, teachers & colleagues!
    !gnilims peeK