“Don’t worry about the grade. Focus on what you’re learning.”

Out on town
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Kristina Alexanderson via Compfight

On Thursday, one of my students bombed his vocabulary and sentence structure test. He seemed less disappointed when he found out that he could retake it and receive some remedial instruction pre-retake. This morning he was waiting for me when I arrived at school. We reviewed comma splices (and how to avoid them), as well as the complex sentence structure. He retook the test and I told him I’d have the results for him later in the day.

When I gave him the results, he seemed pleased to learn that he recovered almost all of his points. He told me that his father had texted him earlier in the day to find out how he did on his retake. When this student told him he didn’t know the results yet, his father, (sensing his son’s apprehension regarding the results, I imagine) said, “Don’t worry about the grade. Focus on what you’re learning.”

That is a remarkable things for a parent to say in the day and age of the Almighty GPA, high-stakes test scores, and an overall desire to “keep up with the Joneses.” Our culture has a general obsession with how people look on paper regardless of what they actually know and can do. We can talk multiple measures all we want, but until more colleges start looking at the student as a total package and actually using multiple measures to determine admission, and even more importantly, who receives scholarship awards, we will continue to perpetuate the culture of distilling people into numbers. (I realize this isn’t the ONLY thing that needs to happen, but it would be a very influential place to start. I also believe that those who run colleges are starting to recognize this.) We can push from the bottom, but what we really need is some top-end action.

I can tell students that it’s important for them to challenge themselves by taking more difficult classes, by doing their best, by trying, even when trying is hard, and I might make a difference, but when a child grows up in a home where the learning process is valued above sheer numbers, that is the most powerful influence of all. Learning is a lifestyle. What a powerful message–what a powerful gift–that father gave to his son this afternoon.

Many students spend so much time fixating on their GPAs that they lose sight of what school should really be about–learning transferable skills that they can take with them into the world (not just college, but THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD). Any time I hear of parents taking some of the pressure off of their children by assuring them that the process they are going through is more valuable than a number on a paper or in a grade book, that makes my heart happy. It gives me hope for our system.

2 thoughts on “Don’t worry about the grade. Focus on what you’re learning.”

  1. Wow!! Wow!! Wow!! Love this and must say that I have not done a good job of letting my children know that the focus should be on learning. We do get caught up in the GPA and ACT game as we know that is what opens the doors but it is a sorry state of affairs… thanks for the insight

    1. It’s easy to do that, Brenda. It’s part of our culture, so why wouldn’t you “play that game”? We all have! In fact, as a parent of a college sophomore, in a way, it felt irresponsible to NOT play that game, when she was still in high school. It’s not too late to help in changing that mindset though. Our children will get plenty of pressure at school from one another–and in the media–THANKS MEDIA! so it’s not like we’ll take away the competition, if we ease up on the pressure (at least a little) at home. It will give them license to take academic risks from time-to-time and to not give up in the face of a (very temporary) failure–like a bombed classroom assessment. And, don’t get my wrong, I’m not saying that ALL TESTS ARE BAD or ALL TESTS ARE UNIMPORTANT. I just want students to know that tests (classroom, high-stakes, or otherwise) are not EVERYTHING, but I will go on record as saying that LEARNING is EVERYTHING. Thanks for keeping an open mind.


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