Place Value

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Robyn Jackson provides this example of “classroom currency” in the February 2010 of Educational Leadership :

For instance, earning good grades is a currency we may recognize. Maybe your students are not motivated by grades but really want the approval of their friends. When you recognize that being motivated by grades is really your preferred currency and that approval from friends isn’t good or bad, that it’s simply an alternate form of currency, you can find ways to leverage this currency to help students learn.

Currency is an issue of value – or more specifically the placement of value.

Currency asks teachers to discover what or who their students value and how much they value it – and perhaps even why they value it.

Let’s call “value” the meaningfulness of an act, object, or relationship. And let’s call its placement the degree of commitment applied to that act, object, or relationship.

And while I do believe Jackson is correct and that it is important to recognize and respect where students’ values are placed, I also believe it is our role as educators to encourage the sophistication of their values.

In Jackson’s example, why is the approval of peers more important than earning good grades? Assuming that earning good grades is more important than peer approval, shouldn’t we as educators help students broaden and become more sophisticated in how they determine value and where they place it?

I am making the assumption that adults know better than their adolescent (and younger) counterparts. For example, I am assuming the situation of a teenager fretting over a zit before Picture Day is not as serious as one where a mother notices the sudden appearance of a mole (though to the teenager the zit is a very serious matter).

In that moment, at that stage in life, the cure or removal of that zit has great value. The teenager’s reaction is developmentally appropriate. Just as it is developmentally appropriate for students to value the acceptance of their peers over good grades.

But it isn’t right. As they mature and broaden their world that zit should depreciate as the notion of value becomes more informed and more sophisticated – The result of new experiences and deeper understanding about old ones.

Also does encouraging their placement of value as Jackson suggests stunt their personal development? Or do we assume that left to their own devices, students will discover for themselves the real value of good grades versus peer acceptance?

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