I have a confession. I am very competitive. I want to be the best at everything I do. And in school, I care about my grades. A lot.
I am trying to focus more on learning and expanding my horizons. But grades still loom over me. Judging me. An indication that I could do better, that I should do better.
I keep having to remind myself that grades are not the end-all, be-all, that grades do not indicate my value. But the number is there, proof that I did something wrong. And I strive for perfection.
But I don’t try to be perfect in other things that I do outside of school, such as learning a sport, an instrument, or a new language. I know I am not perfect, and I don’t strive for perfection. I just want to be able to learn and explore and do new, cool things. So why the difference between how I learn in school and how I learn things outside of school?
Let’s do a simple comparison.
In addition to the big differences in the learning environment and my personal goals, a few differences jumped out at me. When playing soccer, I was willing to take a risk and try new things. In classes, I tried to make sure I didn’t make a mistake.
Another difference was that I reflected on my performance and assessed myself more in fun activities than I ever did in school. And while I often had feedback from someone else (my soccer coach yelling at me for not shooting on frame, for example), I would take that feedback and reflect on my performance, what went well, and what didn’t go so well. And I would work to do better next time. Whenever I got a grade back in school, on the other hand, I was embarrassed at the mistakes I made and quickly put my test away never to look at it again. There was no room for errors. There was no reflection. Learning in school usually consisted of me trying to do something and being evaluated by an external source (usually the professor). I didn’t really think about what I was doing or why. I didn’t evaluate myself. I waited to be evaluated by someone else.
A powerful form of assessment is self-assessment. I use it naturally in everyday life. But it is not always present in the classroom. However, self-assessment and metacognition (thinking about your thinking) can encourage people to think about their current understanding of a subject and what aspects of a topic are confusing. They can help students compare where they are to where they previously were in their understanding. Self-assessment and metacognition can help people understand their strengths and weaknesses, how to improve, how to expand their abilities, and how to learn.