Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Why are we still giving awards in the 21st Century?

     Student Awards Ceremonies are scheduled soon.  My elementary school holds them three times a year which coincides with the trimester report cards.  Its the same ceremony every time, probably the same as all elementary schools across the nation.  Tonight I had to choose five students who would receive these special honors in front of parents and the whole student body.
     I have never enjoyed award ceremonies.  Never.  When I look around during one all I see are a select group of proud parents, a select group of happy award winning students, and then a a very large group of bored, sad, and possibly jealous students who didn't receive awards.  I see this every time.  And its always the same students that win these awards.  "Arturo" who tries so hard in class, but has a learning disability doesn't make the list.  "Jennie" who is an English Language Learner but is not learning the language "quick enough" doesn't make the cut either.  "Victor", whose single mom works two jobs while he stays home to take care of his two younger siblings somehow doesn't get good enough grades to be celebrated either.  The list goes on and on.
     I am actually, but not surprisingly, a parent that got invited to my son's award ceremonies every month.  He was and is a brilliant student, but he should be.  I am a teacher and I know what he needs to learn.  My job affords the luxury of being able to stay home with him during weekends and vacations and evenings.  I know the importance of taking him to the art museums and the beach and the Science Discovery Museum.  He takes music lessons once a week and we read every night.  There is no reason why he shouldn't win an award with this background.  So why do we reward him, and students like him every month for skills and knowledge that were easy to acquire?  And more importantly, why do we ignore and subconsciously put down all those other students by not honoring them?
     Doesn't 21st Century Learning value soft skills?  Shouldn't we honor empathy, compassion, teamwork, leadership?  What about the communication skills of listening and speaking?  There is critical thinking, using tools strategically, as well as art, music, and dance.  What about learning a second or third language, and valuing differences and cultural diversity?  Let's not forget the skills of good sportsmanship, athleticism, perseverance, and positivity.  Why can't we give all those other students who are sitting in the award assembly audience these awards?  Why do we have to stick with the same set of rules and expectations that were held in the 20th Century now?  Why hasn't this aspect of education evolved?
     I know that as a Common Core teacher we are supposed to be backing away from the competitive aspect of classroom management and moving towards a more collaborative learning system.  We are supposed to move our desks out of the single desk set up and into groups of 4 or 5 with the goal of teamwork, rather than competition.  I know that some of the grades I give now are based on collaboration and working within a group.  Why are we still giving awards for something we really don't even teach anymore?  Why are we putting our students through this torture that kills their self esteem and hope?  Why?

Check out this post from a fellow blogger with the same point of view!  He offers some interesting solutions of what to do instead of awards.           http://nathandlang.com/2016/07/ditchawards/


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