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Some random thoughts on learning and teaching (from 2014)


We judge others every day and whether we admit it or not, we all make snap judgments within a matter of seconds. We think that we know our students, and in some ways, perhaps we do. But do we really know them (do we really know anybody) if we do not know struggles they face, their true potential, their personal stories, or dreams they pursue…

Do grades (marks) really express an evaluation of the quality and quantity of learning? Why do we obstinately continue with the perverted practice of grading?

Our insistence on attempting to evaluate students’ performance through a system of grades or marks is the most unfair and tyrannical of all the practices in our schools. Grading and labelling tend to punish the less able students, who may be trying very hard. Arthur E. Lean, an American professor and educational philosopher in his essay “The Farce Called Grading” (1976) claims that the reason people hold on to them is because they are familiar and they act as an incentive that pushes students to work hard, while they actually make students pessimistic. Lean argues that grades are unfair and extremely subjective, and provides many examples of real life situations where grading varies drastically, and where it may be influenced by many factors outside the student’s educational status. In addition, Lean provides an alternative to the grading system, which is written reports that give in-depth information on a student’s status, and parent-teacher meetings.

In his essay Lean quotes Louis T. Benezet (an American educator, education administrator and multiple U.S. university president):

“A sustained effort should be made to throw out false inducements to learning. In one way or another most of these refer to our obsession with grades…. As a system for evaluating attainment of broad educational aims, it remains a failure. Few teachers have any systematic idea of how to grade fairly. Grading is also the chief villain behind the scandal of college cheating.”


Why don’t teachers use the methods that they believe are most effective?

An effective teacher leads a class by simultaneously engaging with content, classroom management, and the ongoing monitoring of students’ progress and assessment of their performance, which is a very intense and demanding work. When students collaborate to exchange ideas, make decisions, and solve problems there are often situations which can devolve into chaos in less-than-expert hands. These student-centered methods pose classroom management problems for many teachers, and they usually give up and choose some safer and easier (traditional) ways of teaching.

Should teachers teach critical thinking, collaboration, and problem solving to their students?

Teachers of the 21st century are mediators who create a conducive atmosphere for learning. They encourage their students to be lifelong learners, constantly growing, evolving, open to new ideas, and always willing to learn from others. Being critical thinkers, students are open to changing their minds if someone presents a better idea or solution. Students know how to draw conclusions, make informed decisions, apply knowledge to new situations, and create new knowledge. They know how to recognize new knowledge and understanding, and how to recognize personal strengths and weaknesses over time and become stronger, more independent learners.

Although we are now in the second decade of the 21st century, this seems to me more as a wishful thinking than reality in most parts of the globe nowadays. Schools  must have a better curriculum and better teaching, and they must be more deliberate about teaching critical thinking, collaboration, and problem solving to all students. You can read a lot more about this here: 21st Century Skills: The Challenges Ahead (Andrew J. Rotherham and Daniel Willingham)


“Politeness is the poison of collaboration” (Edwin Land)

Collaboration can really make the world a better place, but it cannot be effective if we are not familiar with a fundamental set of collaborative practices. Practices such as creating a supportive environment, respect for the individual and their viewpoint, awareness of the strengths that each person brings to the joint activity, similar commitment to work and trust that each person is working towards the best outcome for the whole team. Politeness is critical to collaboration if the people are too harsh or rude; on the other hand, politeness is the poison of collaboration if people are too polite and unwilling to challenge the thinking of others, criticize an idea or concept, or propose different ways of doing things. Respect and trust are essential, but positive and constructive critique is equally important.

Pictures_2013. 1084


This is a random learning idea for you/your students: you can create a learning log, a sort of a notebook where you can write down just one interesting thing you have learnt each day of the year. Thus you can collect 365 new and exciting items; you can read about them from time to time and at the end of 2015.

As I am fond of weird/funny words, I jotted down this in my learning log today:

8 words coined and popularized by Jonathan Swift:

Brobdingnag – gained the figurative meaning of anything immense or gigantic

houyhnhnm – echoes the neighing of a horse.

Lilliputian – refers to anything small or trivial

modernism – refers to innovative or distinctively modern feature

spargefaction – the act of sprinkling (the word comes from the Latin spargere,

“to scatter, sprinkle,” plus facere, “to make)

truism – a self-evident truth, more commonly known as a cliche

Vanessa – the name Vanessa was coined by Swift as a pseudonym for his longtime

lover Esther Vanhomrigh

Yahoo – now the word refers to any brute or uncouth person

Yahoo as an exclamation of excitement, with the earliest recorded citation in the 1970s.

[As for Yahoo the search engine, the name is supposedly an acronym for “Yet Another

Hierarchical Officious Oracle”]


Thanks for reading the post.

I wish you a lot of happiness, learning, and lovely unexpected gifts in 2015 🙂


About ljiljana havran

English language teacher (General & Aviation English), passionate about learning and teaching. Curious, adventurous, a lifelong learner. Love: good books, music, lots of dance.

3 responses »

  1. Shall we call it a strange coincidence or a kind of mental connection? Believe it or not, my two latest posts in my other blog were about grading and collaboration! See for yourself if you like –
    And it seems we think alike on the subjects. I enjoyed reading your post. I particularly like the idea of creating a learner log.
    I wish you a lot of precious moments in 2015. 🙂



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