In her article “The Educational Power of Discomfort,” Irina Popescu talks about the challenges presented by student “fragility”:
“I mean the fragility I witness when a student misses an assignment because he simply forgot to check the syllabus, or when a student speaking aloud in class for the first time starts shaking, or when a student who is handed back an incomplete paper with a C on it immediately tears up. I am talking about the fragility that follows their separation from the structured patterns of high school and middle school, as they are thrown into a world where the future is unknown. There are no more good-job-dinosaur-with-a-thumb-up stickers for simply getting a task done in college. That lack of consistent positive reinforcement often discourages and upsets them, especially in a writing class where so much depends on the transcription of our own personal visions and interpretations.”
Her answer to this problem is that “[w]e must make it clear to our students that mistakes and failure are a part of learning.” She writes, “To help my students with this, one of the first things I do every semester is make them understand that a bad grade is just that, a bad grade, and that it should push them to do better the next time. Often the bad grade stems from a lack of motivation, energy, and time. We must make it clear to our students that mistakes and failure are a part of learning.”
This may be easier said than done in a climate of grade-inflation and student entitlement, but for those of us teaching–especially in the writing classroom–Popescu’s article reminds us that if we want to be successful, we have to try to make our students understand that growth is more important than grades.