In a recent New York Times article critiquing grit in education, David Brooks writes, “Creative people are good at asking new questions, but the GPA rewards those who can answer other people’s questions.”
From my experience owning a test-prep company, GPA is king and not just for students, whose sense of intellectual worth rises and falls with each letter grade. This applies to parents too. If I had a nickel for every time I heard parents complain about how their students’ SAT scores didn’t match up with their performance in class, I would be retired in Hawaii. The underlying assumption is too clear: For parents and students alike, GPA equals smarts. From their perspective standardized testing is often just some deceptive evil that misrepresents their students’ intelligence.
Of course, when I dig deeper with each student, there’s an unmistakable correlation between their performance on the SAT and the analytical skills they possess. In other words, if we think of intelligence in terms of the speed at which a student can assimilate new ideas, GPA reflects the extent to which students capitalize on grit and intelligence. On the other hand, standardized testing at its best highlights how well students can think critically about the mass of knowledge they accumulate in school.
Like David Brooks, I’m convinced that educating students for the future means teaching them to work smarter, not harder. And this philosophy has informed our conception of SmartyReader, a tool intended to ensure students can think critically about the information they learn in the English/language arts classroom. The inherent issue in forging this transition for any ed-tech company, however, is deep-seated. To experience continuous cultivation of analytical skills, students need to confront material that is just challenging enough, meaning that the focus on perfection (getting A’s) needs to become a thing of the past.
But how? We learned the hard way. Initially, our critical reading and writing exercises (Smarticles) gave feedback in the form of the percentage of questions users answered correctly. When users witnessed percentages in the 60s and 70s (ideal instructional difficulty), they would grow disheartened and even averse to using the app. Feedback was too close to what students were accustomed to in school, where it’s often hard to get below a B. So we changed things up. Now students get immediate feedback on each question and accumulate points based on the specific skills they develop. By making this change, we witnessed a turn-around in user participation.
We believe this philosophy is a way forward for skill-driven, ed-tech companies like us.
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For more information visit @smartyreaders on Twitter.