The other day I saw a video posted on facebook where there was an assembly to celebrate the students that hit their goal in something called iReady. Another computer based intervention program with a lot of promises to make teachers lives easier and also increase student engagement (reminds me of AR so get ready). Students in the video are marched up in front of their peers to pour slime on their administrators as the reward for reaching their goal. Like AR, this iReady program sets benchmarks for kids to reach based on their ability levels. Those that do better cruise through the system, those stuck, well...don't.
See AR and programs like it are made to make things easier on teachers, reduce how much marking we have to do, how much testing we have to do, how much one on one work we have to do. See when these programs make promises too many teachers believe it and go with it. The idea that kids "like" AR is one of those things those who use it choose to believe to feel less guilty about disrespecting their students with such horrible practice. The prizes at the end and the final party for reaching your goal make the painfully dull tests and dated books selections "worth it" but really what damage is being done to the kids that are not successful in these programs? The ones who never get the stupid pencil top eraser or bouncy ball? The ones who miss the pizza party or the slime pouring on admin (also watching the video each kid pours what looks like less than 1/4 inch of slime on their principal. If you are going to commit to something and incentivize the reaching of goals at least go all in, let the kids really slime you)?
I will tell you what happens to them. They develop a self image that they are not worthy of success. They see past the prizes and the parties because in the end those are only symbols. They see that they are left out while others are lifted up. They see that kids who comply with crappy practices are rewarded and those that are not as fortunate to succeed are left to watch what they could maybe be if they just "tried harder" or put in the time the slime pours put in.
I am not a believer in "everyone get a participation ribbon at track" thinking. I think in sports where competition is part of the game we should reward those who put in the time to become the best because the trophy and success is the goal. Learning should not be a competition and it is definitely not a game. Reading and developing as a reader should not be a points-based process. It should be supportive, uplifting and individualized. Holding kids to some hot garbage reading program as a sign of dedication, or academic success that is worthy of anything is not only malpractice (it is) but it is also a poor excuse for a literacy program. I had a student once tell me there was no point to reading because he would never meet the goals that were set, he didn't in 4th or 5th so why would he in 6th? Bad teachers and AR did that. The language used, the rewards promised, all program kids to think either they are better than others because they made the party or dumber than others because they didn't.
AR and reading programs are not the only issue that comes up looking at the public celebration of academic success. Many schools do an honour roll. Students who do well academically are posted up for all to see. In some schools, kids with "high honours" (90 and above) are not required to write a year-end final that is worth a large percentage of the final mark. Can anyone explain that nonsense to me? A student who has struggled throughout the year has to also prove that they "got it" by writing a cumulative year-end exam worth 20% of their mark but one who excelled gets to skip the summative exam? How is that equitable? How is it even remotely sound educational practice and yet it continues.
A conversation around High Honours last year with a few students really helped me solidify my position on this. One student was asking what he had to do to secure a 90 or above in my LA class. At the time he voiced how embarrassing his 84% was. Another student turned to say how impressed he would be to even have an 80%. This student recognized he would be missing from the academic celebrations. A great kid, creative, imaginative and kind still felt the shame of not making "the list"
If I had a school themed Christmas wish it would be that we stop making education a competition. We have enough of it as it is. Let's help our students see what is most important, their strengths and successes. Let's celebrate all students as they work to reach their goals. I don't want participation ribbons for education, or trophies or plaques. I want students who see their individual worth and celebrate it. I want authentic practices of teachers conferencing with students to replace the robotic hum of computers and kids clicking a mouse.
Our students deserve better and really what does it say if you can be so easily replaced by the click of a button? No computer questions got my students questioning the words of Rudy Francisco or discussing the powerful moments in Refugee. Teaching should not be reduced to computer quizzes and pizza party rewards. Our students deserve better.