Attitude to learning

Does your school give grades/comments to pupils for “attitude to learning”? In the old days, I guess it would have been just “behaviour”. I have no problem with the fact that we seem to have moved away from that to an indicator which is more wide ranging. However, like so much in teaching, we seem to have thrown out the baby with the bath water and gone from one extreme to the other. This article in the Guardian got me thinking.

I think you could argue a case that, in the past, the school system was unfair to extroverts. Whether or not you think this is accurate, my discussions with colleagues I meet at conferences and other gatherings have convinced me that now the opposite seems to be true. Some “attitude to learning” descriptors do not mention disruptive behaviour which disturbs others. Instead, the emphasis is on participation, collaboration and classroom contributions, for which children should be rewarded. The thinking seems to be that in the modern world these qualities will override everything else. Consequently, the door is open to the class narcissists and drama kings and queens to glory in their positive “attitude to learning” grades, while the quiet, thoughtful children are disadvantaged.

It seems bizarre that, for all the talk about developing thinking skills, the thoughtful child who is attentive in class and who prefers to mull over an issue before contributing an opinion is no longer rewarded in some schools’ “attitude to learning” descriptors (if yours is different please let me know!). I am now finding myself telling some classes that I will not allow contributions immediately, since I want them to think about the issue before offering their views.

Even more damaging, in my opinion, is when teachers are asked to give friendship awards for children in their class. In my experience, the greatest acts of friendship are carried out in private. Teachers are not with their charges 24/7. The real danger of teachers being asked to give “friendship” awards is that, once again, the child who makes a great show of friendship when the teacher is around will be given a reward, despite the fact that they could be being very nasty when the teacher is not around. Once again, a quiet child who does not like a fuss or show is likely to be ignored. Even worse is a lack of recognition that some children like to be alone more than others. This does not make them defective. I was an only child and consequently was perfectly happy with my own company most of the time. I used to get fed up with being asked by well meaning adults if I was all right.

In making the counter argument, I run the risk of going to the other extreme of over praising introverts and demonising extroverts. So I would like to say that I think we as teachers do have a duty to draw out the quieter children and give them self confidence. A child who never contributes in class or group discussions is not practising the vital skill of being able to put a point across in a manner which is not offensive, but nevertheless seeks to persuade others. We do need to encourage participation, but we also need to encourage contemplation, thoughtfulness and behaviour which does not disrupt the contemplation and thoughtfulness of others.


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2 Responses to Attitude to learning

  1. Jeannine says:

    As an introvert in a family of introverts I thank you for this thoughtful post.


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