To pass or to succeed?

The video above is part of the introduction to Leaders of Learning an edX course I started yesterday. I like Richard Elmore and was privileged enough to learn with him while I was completing my master’s.

I’m taking the course as a pause to refine my practice and thinking about leading in learning spaces and to better learn from those also in the course leading learning around the world.

I’ll likely talk more about the course in the weeks to come. I post about it today because of what Elmore says at the top of this video. It is a distinction between passing and succeeding, and it’s one I appreciate.

Amid trying to understand my thinking and feeling about grades in the classroom, I would start the year telling students they would earn a B in the course by completing the work before them. “Do that,” I’d say, “and the B is yours. If you want to earn an A, though, do it all and then a little bit more because you’re curious or because you’re proud of something you’ve created.”

It was a primative attempt at encouraging deeper inquiry using the only blunt instrument I could think of at the time – grades.

Elmore’s distinction asks those in the course to pause and consider what they want from the learning. If it’s a certificate, go for it. If it’s learning, go deeper.

I wonder how such a distinction might translate to a course that isn’t something students have entered by choice, but by compulsion. Would simply making the distinction regularly between passing and succeeding change students’ outlook on the work they were completing? Would wanting to encourage success lead teachers to shift their practices toward things with more inherent relevance to students?

I suppose it’s one of the questions with which I’ll wrestle over the next few weeks of the course.

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