Sunday, February 14, 2010

Are you sure that's what you really want?

As Matt Townsley has posted, homework is always one of the huge sticking points when it comes to standards-based grading. Inevitably, a teacher will always turn to me and say, "Well if they're not going to get points for homework, how am I going to hold them accountable?"*

I think Matt has already covered that topic pretty well so I won't get into the day-to-day of it. I've touched on it once before. What I wanted to blog about was the last part of the question, "hold them accountable."

Is that what we really want? We want to hold our kids accountable? Take a second and think about the implications of that word. The word accountable does two things. It assigns blame. And it shifts the focus. Not only that, but we have to hold them to it. I have this mental image of us getting kids into a sleeper hold while someone from the Electric Company zaps them.

We don't really want to hold our kids accountable. What we want is responsibility. Responsibility doesn't assign blame. We hold our kids accountable. We share responsibility.

In the book Drive, Daniel Pink mentions that Robert Reich goes into businesses and counts pronouns. How many times are employees using "we" versus "you"? Healthy companies say "we."

In our schools, how often are we "holding kids accountable" and how often are we "sharing responsibility"?

*In my particularly snarky moods I tend to respond with, "I agree they should be held accountable, just like NCLB holds us accountable." If you really want to get a teacher to shiver, equate our practices with NCLB.


  1. I got a good kick out of your comment "Well if they're not going to get points for homework, how am I going to hold them accountable?"* and footnote. :)
    Another way to think about it revolves around the ideal that most teachers I know, at least from a theoretical perspective, want their students to be "lifelong learners." Newsflash #1! There aren't always "points" and rewards in the "real world." Sometimes you just do things because they're expected of you or even better yet, because they will lead to success later on; the same ideal applies to homework.
    Newsflash #2! By giving points for daily assignments, we're actually discouraging our students from becoming intrinsically motivated. Think of homework points as fueling the fire of "will this be graded?" that so many teachers want to get rid of.

    You're right. By assigning points to homework, we aren't holding kids accountable. We are only making them more dependent on extrinsic rewards.

  2. Great comment. I think every school in the world has "lifelong learners" in their mission statement. At some point we need to actually put some of those ideals into practice instead of just being a plaque on the wall.