By Natalie Foote and Anouk Clendenning
Every day, students compare grades on assignments and tests. More often than not, those who often earn high scores are labeled “smart” and told by their peers that because of this intelligence, they are immune to failure. While intelligence plays a part, there are many other factors involved. The claim that brains guarantee success could not be further from the truth, and it is a flaw that runs deep in the school system.
The change needs to happen in our perspective of the purpose of school. There is mounting evidence that education tends to lead to a bright future, but is that education quantifiable by grades? In the United States, student motives are disregarded in a system that emphasizes high scores instead of self-directed learning and important skills such as work ethic, leadership, and responsibility.
The main indicator of this problem lies in students’ grades. Teachers quantify students by their grades, scoring them based on accuracy instead of, say, how much they’ve improved. (This may be harder for departments such as math, where there’s often only one right answer to a problem.)
This is where the improvement part comes in. A student familiar with the material who finishes homework quickly is not learning as much as a struggling student who takes their time. Even if they don’t get all of the problems right or need assistance, this student works hard and is unafraid to ask for help.
The only intelligence necessary for success is the knowledge of what method of studying works best. A student who retains little information from reading a textbook might remember more if they were to watch videos or vice versa. As long as students know how to study, are willing to put in the work, and are in an environment conducive to learning, they will likely do well.
The real issue is that schools don’t adequately teach study skills. Teachers may recommend a certain number of exercises or hours for success, but it is not often that students are taught how to study. Most students do a couple of assigned exercises or re-read their notes. Some may be consistently disappointed by low test scores and try to read their notes more times, often staying up late and worsening the problem with sleep deprivation. Eventually, they burn out.
This burnout can make even the most motivated students lose confidence because their efforts are not yielding results. “Smart” students are uplifted and praised, even though their effort is not as significant as those who struggle with the content. Yes, those who get good grades have to work for them, but those who struggle with memorization or difficult concepts are at a disadvantage.
The solution? Look at other countries, such as Finland. In Finland, there are no standardized tests until the last years of their equivalent of high school. Schools are small compared to their US counterparts, allowing teachers to approach learning in unique ways. The US could adopt a similar style of teaching by not giving teachers such strict guidelines and allowing them to use their professional judgment to present the curriculum in a way that benefits all students.
The issue remains in the way students are taught. Instead of sending a message that only the smart ones get good grades, teach students how to study. Expose students to various study habits, allow them to choose their preferred method early on, and show them that if they put in the work, they’ll do well. Intelligence means little if there’s no hard work involved.
Photo courtesy of Anouk Clendenning. Two students are hard at work in Beaver Lodge.