When did it come to be that red ink was a sign of wrong-doing? Why red? I can only imagine that this was at a point when red meant burns, pain, blood, injury… something bad. So why is it that, as teachers, we so often feel the need to critique students… to help them grow and want to improve and be successful… in this very same color?
Book Study & My Why
I have been reading a book lately- In Other Words by Rachelle Dene Poth, that is filled with quotes about life, teaching, and other ponderings to get educators thinking. I am also participating in a Twitter Book Study as part of this reading. A question came up today that is near and dear to my heart: “What is your why?” The thought immediately brought me to the topic above… red ink. You see, when I was in high school a singular event completely changed the way I viewed education and defined my goals for my future. In a very direct way, it lead me straight to this website, to the presentations I give, to my passion for Disruptive Teaching and changing the way we view education.
During my elementary and high school years, learning was relatively easy to me, and school was a place to feel safe and gain knowledge that was unable to be obtained in other places. Home had it’s challenges, but I knew that each day, I could go to a welcoming school and would find teachers who had knowledge to share. I never dreamed that this was not the case for every student. In my school, students who struggled were not often in the general education classroom, so I wasn’t aware of classmates who thought learning was hard. This changed late in my high school career.
When I was in high school, I had the opportunity to spend time as a tutor for students in the elementary school. Two times each week, I would go to the elementary school during my study hall and work with a student who struggled with academic tasks. It was one of these days that I decided that my life’s goal was to be an educator and find ways to help all students learn, especially those who did not learn in the same way as everyone else. I was assigned to a fifth grade classroom. Most days I worked with one individual student. On the day that changed my view of education, I arrived and was told I was to help the student edit a writing assignment. The student approached me, smiling, and excited for me to read her story. I was excited as well, knowing how difficult writing was for her and the effort she had been putting into this particular writing. We approached the teacher to get the assignment that the teacher had edited and my student’s face instantly fell. The change in her demeanor was something I will never forget. I looked at the paper that was being handed to her, and it was full of bright red marks. At the top of the paper, these unforgettable word were written in bright red block letters: “This is a hurried up mess. You will do this again and again until you do it my way.” Those are words I will never erase from my mind. From that day forward, I decided these were the students I wanted to work with--the students who did not learn exactly the same as every other student, who were told through words and actions that they were not good enough.
I had found my why.
And I made a vow: I would never write in red ink.
No More Red Ink
Throughout my years of teaching, I have worked with many students who do not view learning as an attainable goal-- indeed, it was not even on their radar. They have been taught by the educational system, their peers, society, and even their families that they are unable to attain the level of learning that is expected of them. There has been no attention paid to the intelligence that these students have in so many areas, but not necessarily in the subjects tested in the standard classroom. These students were not assessed on their ability to problem solve, which they excelled at, sometimes in order to survive the school day. Nor were they assessed on their ability to find information or learn a topic that was necessary for them to reach their desires. If they had been, I can attest to the fact that these students would have obtained the information faster and with more understanding than most. I have personally witnessed the depth of knowledge, heart, and strength that these students possess. And while many of them did not perform well on our standard assessments of academic success, most went on to be thriving members of our society. Once these students were connected to methodologies that fit their learning styles and provided content in an accessible manner, the barriers that the educational system thought were insurmountable melted away.
My goal is to be able to work with educators and students to provide a different view of education, one where students are lifelong learners and motivated to find and absorb knowledge in the way that best meets their needs. In today’s age of information, it may be more important to create learners who have the skill to obtain information than it is for them to know the information themselves. It may also be more significant to create an environment where students’ strengths are encouraged and all learners have access to the information that is so freely available to most. We have moved past the point in time where students need to come to school because teachers are the ones with all of the knowledge. Information is now free and available. It is the educators job to teach learning as a skill and to show students how to access and utilize the information that is available to them.
How can we move past the era of red ink? How can we make learning a process where there is no “end” requiring red marks for wrong answers? These questions roll through my head each and every day and hopefully, if you are taking the time to read blogs and Twitter chats, and talk to your teaching neighbors, these thoughts cross your mind in various forms as well. It is essential to the growth of our educational system and for educating the future generations who need to view learning as a continuous process in order to keep up with the changes in our world today.
What can we do today?
Ditch the red ink- pick fun colors that students will not immediately view as wrong.
Talk about ‘feedback’ instead of ‘grading’.
Give students an opportunity to fix errors… after all… as an adult, how often is it you don’t get a chance to fix your mistakes?
Encourage asking questions. Ask students about their work. Ask why. Go deeper.
When writing assessments, try include mostly deep-knowledge questions that allow students to explain and show their knowledge instead of rote memorization.
Show your students your mistakes. You aren’t perfect. It is ok to show that to your students and an excellent model of continued learning and growth even as an adult.
Be careful how you talk about students. Never speak as if they are limited in what they can achieve.
Continue the conversation- find a PLN, connect with others, share what works and what doesn’t. Never stop learning and refining what you do