It is no secret that things at Parker are rapidly changing. Beginning this 2021-2022 school year, Parker has been experimenting with a new learning “approach” driven by a model of “student centered learning,” according to Brandon Rogers, assistant head of school at Parker. Whether it has been for the better or worse is at the discretion of each individual, and depends on who you ask. Nonetheless, students have expressed a range of opinions – some positive, but also varying degrees of discontent amidst the fluctuating academic landscape.
For many students, much of the underlying confusion and subsequent frustration has stemmed from the general perception of a lack of communication and transparency throughout this year of transition. The communication in particular has affected how students are experiencing these changes, said Rogers in an interview with Parker Press. He “assumed that teachers were communicating this on a local level,” because in the experimental phase earlier this year there was not a set group of changes ready to be implemented across the board.
“I think that it was the lack of communication that has probably created more tension, anxiety than anything else,” said Rogers. So moving forward, how can these tensions be resolved, and how can students have a positive experience with this new approach? “Starting with clarity from the very beginning would help,” said Rogers.
So let’s start from the very beginning…
While many students have expressed that this transition has felt rather abrupt, this new approach to grading has actually been in the works for the past year and a half. It began in the fall of 2020 with a “professional learning day” for teachers about equity in regards to grading. This led to a faculty meeting at the end of the 2020-2021 school year, followed by the department chairs coming together shortly after, and it essentially crescendoed from there.
Which brings us to the start of this school year —a year that “was supposed to be a risk-free piloting of things,” said Rogers.
Aside from the confusion amidst the initial roll-out and early experimental phase of this new “approach,” it is still unclear to some students as to why exactly these changes are being made and what problems they are intended to rectify. In short, this new approach is an effort to move away from the traditional “punitive” method of teaching “based more on compliance and extrinsic motivation,” according to Rogers. The idea is that by abolishing the late policy and not grading homework, the struggle of authenticating student work will be eliminated and students will be encouraged to take risks when it comes to their learning.
These changes were made with the intention of replacing motivation by fear with motivation by passion, and giving students the space to develop it, said Patrick Caenepeel, head of middle school at Parker.
For many people, understanding the motive behind this ideology and its theoretical benefits is fairly straightforward, but putting this into practice has proved to be more challenging.
One prominent topic that has surfaced throughout this year of experimentation is the concept of intrinsic motivation. This has been a particularly pressing issue in the classrooms where there has notably been a drastic decrease in the completion of homework now that it is no longer graded.
This has had real tangible effects on not only first attempt quiz results (particularly when it comes to math), but also on the students on the other end of the spectrum who complete all their assignments. One student said “I feel frustrated because I do my work, I do the reading, but I have to do more.” This student is referring to the increasingly common situation where only a handful of students who did the assignment are able to fully participate in class, meaning it falls on them to answer questions and lead the class discussions.
Some students have also expressed apprehension regarding this new approach’s impact on their college readiness. Another student mentioned that most college courses are set up where if you fail the final then you fail the class and you have to retake it. She said “I know that with the ability to retake exams, I don’t study as much for the first one,” and therefore posed the question of “How is that helping us develop study habits?”
It all goes back to building a culture where students do the homework to do well on the test, said Rogers. “Getting students to understand how to own their own learning is going to make students soar during college,” but he also mentioned that “Intrinsic motivation is not something you can force obviously,” it is a part of “culture building.”
Next year students can expect these changes to be more consistent, along with more overall cohesion across their classes. This year of experimentation and the inevitable “growing pains” of transition as Rogers noted, has now fully developed into a new policy outlined in the student handbook for the 2022-2023 school year. In the future, this should help to minimize the confusion that students have experienced this year.
Evidently, “the student experience is a bit fragmented” said Rogers. Nonetheless, “We are very aware that we don’t want to play with the future.”
NOTE: This informational article is the product of two separate interviews with Mr. Rogers and Parker Press leadership (one verbal and face to face, one in written form), along with an additional supervised discussion between Mr. Rogers, StuCo members, Parker Press leadership, Mr. Caenepeel, and a few other teachers that listened in. All interviews and discussions were conducted between March 2nd and March 9th, 2022.
If you have any further questions regarding the new approach to grading or what was discussed in this article, Mr. Rogers is happy to answer them.
Please leave a comment below to provide feedback and let Parker Press know what you think! Thank you for reading! :)