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One bad exam should not become a burden

Bill FoxBy Bill Fox/Columnist

While emphasis is often placed on how well students perform on tests, a principal at an unnamed school wrote a letter to parents urging them to worry less about scores, and that their children’s future success isn’t completely tied to how well they perform on exams.  “The exams of your child are to start soon,” the principal wrote. “I know you are all really anxious for your child to do well.”

The principal continued, “But, please do remember, amongst the students who will be sitting for the exams there is an artist, who doesn’t need to understand math.  There is an entrepreneur, who doesn’t care about history or English literature.  There is a musician, whose chemistry marks won’t matter.

There’s an athlete whose physical fitness is more important than physics.  If your child does get top marks, that’s great! But if he or she doesn’t, please don’t take away their self-confidence and dignity from them. Tell them it’s okay, its just an exam! They are cut out for much bigger things in life.

Tell them, no matter what they score, you love them and will not judge them.  Please do this, and when you do, watch your children conquer the world. One exam or low mark won’t take away their dreams and talents. And please, do not think that doctors and engineers are the only happy people in the world.”

I can recall in my 40 years of teaching that occasionally, the best of students had difficulty in certain subject areas and that the pressure they felt from home to do their best in every subject was sometimes almost unbearable.  Albert Einstein believed that everybody is a genius.  “…But if you judge a fish by it’s ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life thinking that it is stupid”.

I recall, failing Grades 9 and 10, (now I did skip Grade 3) and never being put down or overly pressured by my parents, but always being encouraged.  Eventually I found courses that interested me, and I ended up with three university degrees.

A retired math department head made these comments … “get rid of math as a subject from Grade 6 to 11…. just teach the basics addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, percent, integers and fractions up to Grade 6 and then teach the MATH necessary in subject areas such as science, business, social studies, shops (auto and woodworking), and culinary, in those subject areas only… then the math becomes relevant for students and students make the necessary connections needed for true learning.”

How stressed were you taking math in school, and how stressed were your children?  I thought the comments above were brilliant, especially in light of some recent disappointing provincial math test results.

According to the most educational experts Finland has the best educational system in the world.  How does Finland do it? Among other things, there is the importance that Finnish schools place on children’s enjoyment of learning!

There’s an old Finnish saying.  “Those things you learn without joy you will forget easily.”  In keeping with that philosophy, every Finnish school has a welfare team dedicated to advancing child happiness in school.

Students rarely have homework or take exams until their mid-teens.  Science classes are capped at 16 students so that everyone gets a chance to do the practical experiments in every class.

I believe that Standardized testing like we still have in Ontario, is a motivation killer. The phrase “drill and kill” is often used to describe the process of quickly firing content at students to ensure they will perform well on an exam, to the detriment of real learning and creative thought.  And now with standardized testing, schools and school boards don’t want to see their poor test results in the media.  Teaching to the test, does not promote real learning, or real teaching. Our educational leaders did well in the education systems they were brought up in and as a result often don’t see the need for change.  But until there is change, don’t put all the blame on your children and please remember the words of the Principal above.

Comments are always welcome at bdfox@rogers.com

While emphasis is often placed on how well students perform on tests, a principal at an unnamed school wrote a letter to parents urging them to worry less about scores, and that their children’s future success isn’t completely tied to how well they perform on exams.  “The exams of your child are to start soon,” the principal wrote. “I know you are all really anxious for your child to do well.”

The principal continued, “But, please do remember, amongst the students who will be sitting for the exams there is an artist, who doesn’t need to understand math.  There is an entrepreneur, who doesn’t care about history or English literature.  There is a musician, whose chemistry marks won’t matter.

There’s an athlete whose physical fitness is more important than physics.  If your child does get top marks, that’s great! But if he or she doesn’t, please don’t take away their self-confidence and dignity from them. Tell them it’s okay, its just an exam! They are cut out for much bigger things in life.

Tell them, no matter what they score, you love them and will not judge them.  Please do this, and when you do, watch your children conquer the world. One exam or low mark won’t take away their dreams and talents. And please, do not think that doctors and engineers are the only happy people in the world.”

I can recall in my 40 years of teaching that occasionally, the best of students had difficulty in certain subject areas and that the pressure they felt from home to do their best in every subject was sometimes almost unbearable.  Albert Einstein believed that everybody is a genius.  “…But if you judge a fish by it’s ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life thinking that it is stupid”.

I recall, failing Grades 9 and 10, (now I did skip Grade 3) and never being put down or overly pressured by my parents, but always being encouraged.  Eventually I found courses that interested me, and I ended up with three university degrees.

A retired math department head made these comments … “get rid of math as a subject from Grade 6 to 11…. just teach the basics addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, percent, integers and fractions up to Grade 6 and then teach the MATH necessary in subject areas such as science, business, social studies, shops (auto and woodworking), and culinary, in those subject areas only… then the math becomes relevant for students and students make the necessary connections needed for true learning.”

How stressed were you taking math in school, and how stressed were your children?  I thought the comments above were brilliant, especially in light of some recent disappointing provincial math test results.

According to the most educational experts Finland has the best educational system in the world.  How does Finland do it? Among other things, there is the importance that Finnish schools place on children’s enjoyment of learning!

There’s an old Finnish saying.  “Those things you learn without joy you will forget easily.”  In keeping with that philosophy, every Finnish school has a welfare team dedicated to advancing child happiness in school.

Students rarely have homework or take exams until their mid-teens.  Science classes are capped at 16 students so that everyone gets a chance to do the practical experiments in every class.

I believe that Standardized testing like we still have in Ontario, is a motivation killer. The phrase “drill and kill” is often used to describe the process of quickly firing content at students to ensure they will perform well on an exam, to the detriment of real learning and creative thought.  And now with standardized testing, schools and school boards don’t want to see their poor test results in the media.  Teaching to the test, does not promote real learning, or real teaching. Our educational leaders did well in the education systems they were brought up in and as a result often don’t see the need for change.  But until there is change, don’t put all the blame on your children and please remember the words of the Principal above.

Comments are always welcome at bdfox@rogers.com