The trouble with old-school “go to the head of the class” mentality is it puts all the emphasis on being smarter than everyone else. Friendly competition is one thing; but while an overemphasis on “beating the other guy” may motivate students to try harder, it also:
If we as teachers want to encourage students to do their own best and treat others with respect, let’s present life not as an everyone-for-yourself scramble, but as a community of peers combining their unique gifts toward a greater purpose.
Here are a few ideas for your classroom:
Some enlightened schools have eliminated the grading system altogether, relying on multifaceted individual evaluations to monitor progress. But even if your school requires you to grade assignments, you don’t have to talk about “getting A’s” or “scoring 100%.” Keep the emphasis on the learning itself and the long-term value gained from learning.
If you want a class free of student-picking-on-student bullying, make sure you aren’t setting an example of singling out anyone to be looked down on. When someone requests an explanation of something that seems obvious to you—and even when someone still doesn’t get it after you’ve explained three times—keep impatience and condescension out of your voice and nonverbal language. Consider asking other students to help you make it clearer.
And shuffle project teams—and even classroom seating—periodically, to give everyone a chance to get to know everyone else as individuals.
Many brilliant kids are labeled “slow” simply because their natural learning styles differ from how a teacher thinks all kids “should” learn. Most people learn best in one of three ways: visual (reading and observing); auditory (hearing spoken words or music); or kinesthetic (hands-on doing). Making equal time for each style not only ensures everyone has equal opportunity to learn, it provides open evidence that “different” doesn’t mean superior or inferior. That further helps students see each other as peers rather than rivals, and adds one more ingredient for a classroom that’s noncompetitive and an effective learning environment for everyone!