Defining Success Published 2008-03-14 under , , ,

After finding a nice place to gather the kids, teacher Monica explains that today's art project will be to create a cow from coffee filters, yarn, and surrounding grass. She holds up an example, passes out the supplies and gives each child a cup to collect their grass.

The kids get to work and with the direction of their parents, some good looking cows emerge. Ruby, on the other hand, pours mounds of glue, slaps a filter down and pours more glue. Her father looks on observantly but offers no guidance. The result is very much unlike the initial example, receiving comments like "it's certainly abstract."

Reflecting on this class, I realized just how much we as teachers, parents, and adults define success for our children instead of letting them define their own success. For Ruby, success was pouring the glue and sticking different types of materials together. Success was defined in the process, not in the end product. I will admit that I wanted her to make a cool looking cow and it was difficult to restrain myself from making casual comments like "shouldn't the head be attached to the body?" But, this was not about me. This was not about teacher Monica. It was about Ruby. And we adults needed to get over our personal definitions of success and let the kids explore, learn, and define their own goals.

Later, Ruby and I were throwing a ball to each other. I found myself saying "good throw" when the ball came to me and "good try" when it didn't. It never occurred to me that for her, success might have been seeing how far the ball would roll after throwing it. In this scenario, throwing it to me would be a failure as the ball would not go as far.

In the classroom, we define all student success. Everything is held to a standard set by us (or perhaps the state). Are there opportunities for students to define their own success? What would an assignment look like that provided for student defined success? Could students handle such an assignment? What would they define as a success - would it be so simple as to not provide for any learning or so complex as to be impossible to obtain?

This idea of empowering students has great appeal to me but the pragmatist side of me recognizes the challenges. What are your thoughts?

By the way, I love Ruby's cow.

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