I want an A.
I mean, I Want An A!
This winter I have been submitting my spinning for assessment and receiving grades in return. I find myself on pins and needles with fear and anticipation when a package or email arrives. Am I above the class average? Or, horror of horrors, below? Did I get an A? How far was I from an A? What details did I totally forget or completely overlook that denied me the A?
Any sense of pride in accomplishment is quickly drowned out this Anxiety Beast within me that is screaming I Want An A!
Along with the Anxiety Beast comes an inner Green Monster that wags its long finger, chiding me with “Don’t be so juvenile”, “Grow Up” and “You don’t deserve an A!”. The Green Monster snorts with contempt while the Anxiety Beast sits in a dark corner of my mind chewing its nails.
This. Is. Tiresome.
Okay, pause. Why the hell do I want an A anyways? What is it that I think the A says about me? Good manners? Flawless teeth? Skills perfected? Academically, I know that the A indicates an understanding and mastery of the skill(s) in question. Emotionally, I feel like an A on an assignment is a statement on my personal value and is somehow also indicative of how clean I keep my house.
But here’s the thing about all that Anxiety Beast - it shuts me down from learning new stuff. And to learn new stuff I have to go through a period of time where I am completely horrid at whatever I’m learning. If I want to learn then I can’t be afraid of sucking at something, perhaps for a long time. I can’t be afraid of less than A. Or perhaps I need a new way of assessing what the A means.
Let’s Think About This Differently
I’ve spent some time mulling all of this over and have come up with my own little alternative assessment tool (I am an University instructor after all) to accompany all of my OHS projects. This rubric looks at a the progression of learner’s skill development rather than at a single point in time - where did you start and where are you now? It assesses a learner’s courage - how many times were you willing to try, fail, and try again? It values a learner’s curiosity and willingness to explore a medium, method or idea - what rules and norms did you discover from your explorations? It gives credit for making mistakes - big, ugly f*&!-ups - and figuring out how to fix those mistakes.
So, dear learners, I have a proposal for everyone learning to spin (and knit, weave, speak Spanish, drive a car, draw a picture, balance a spread sheet) that first time you try your new skill - keep the evidence!
Keep that first knitted scarf that is strangely octagonal. Keep that first woven piece that’s so tight it could repel bullets. Keep a recording of your first 2 awkward sentences in Spanish where you say “woman” (la mujer) instead of “better” (mejor). Keep a memory of stalling the car in a busy intersection. Keep that first drawing of your dog that looks like a squirrel with dementia. And keep that first spread sheet that is perpetually -2 off balance.
Assess Your Courage
Keep all those firsts. And pull out this trusty rubric and assess yourself after weeks, months, years of practice. See the difference. Note the improvement. Write down all the rules you discovered. Count all the times you totally screwed up, made mistakes and had the courage to kept trying. I call this Lesson of the Wheel Assessing Your Courage.
Now what’s your grade?
According to these new parameters, I am totally an A+ student.
PS. You are welcome to use, download, share, scribble upon and generally enjoy this rubric. Here’s a handy pdf version just for you: alternative assessment tool pfh-pdf
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