Several weeks ago classroom conversations included ways we could finish the year strong. One of my students asked if we could have a party if every student achieved an A Grade by the end of the quarter. I told him no, but said that we could push the boat out if my gradebook showed no missing assignments, as that would indicate to me that everyone was engaged and invested in their learning journey-and that would be something I would be more than happy to celebrate!
While I thought I was offering a much better deal, several students groaned and eye rolled. When I asked why, they insisted that it was an impossible task because there were always some kids who didn’t complete their work. Sensing defeat before we had even started I asked the class why they thought that was the case. I invited them to question why assignments did not get completed. The responses were diverse and enlightening:
I forget to finish assignments
I sometimes don’t know what I’m supposed to do
I don’t want to do homework
I have no access to technology at home
I can’t get organized and lose papers
I have so many after school activities I’m overwhelmed
I don’t know when assignments are due
I need help but don’t like to ask
I need help but have nobody to ask
The list goes on but as we recorded responses on the board I began to see some of my kid’s faces reflect surprise and revelation. One student summed it up perfectly when he said, “Wow! I just thought people were slackers!” Now that we had gained some insight, I charged the students to generate solutions to these barriers and they have astounded me with their commitment to help each other through these final weeks of the school year. They have been calling and Skyping one other at home to pass on reminders and guidance. Students have asked for sherpas and many a lunch period has been foregone in the quest to support their peers. They have been tweeting, emailing, taking photos and I was thrilled when a parent told me she was pleased to see her child engaged in conversations and conferences about assignments with kids in the class he had never mentioned before.
I reached a landmark today, closing my gradebook for the first time with every single assignment turned in and accounted for. My students not only finished strong but engaged in some of the most important learning of the year. When we put aside our own assumptions, when we flip our mindset and actively listen to each other, we can generate successful, user centered solutions. Tomorrow I will be sad to say goodbye to my sixth graders, but look forward to my fifth graders returning next year, armed with some powerful tools to help them embrace our new team members with empathy and compassion.