HOW TO CREATE A NONCOMPETITIVE CLASSROOM
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:
- Creates a disorganized pack of lone wolves driven by fear that giving anyone else a hand means losing personal advantage.
- Gives the impression that kids who make lower grades (or aren’t athletic, or find it hard to sit still) are “dumb” and deserve to be looked down on. Therein lie the roots of cliques, gossip, and bullying—and sometimes adult indifference to such cruelty, if teachers are also conditioned to “it’s their own fault” thinking.
- Makes even well-executed effort and impressive results feel “not good enough.” If first place is unequivocally “best,” every class of twenty includes at least nineteen kids who feel they should be doing better.
- For those who can’t reach the top no matter how hard they try, leaves them seeing little alternative except to give up on themselves as all-over hopeless.
- Is equally stressful for those at or near the top, never letting them forget they could lose their place (and their value?) with one bad day.
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:
Leave Grades Out of the Conversation
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.
Treat All Students With Equal Respect
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.
Include Lots of Group Discussions and Cooperative Projects in the Curricula
And shuffle project teams—and even classroom seating—periodically, to give everyone a chance to get to know everyone else as individuals.
Include Something For Every Learning Style
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!