Effort Grades and the Secret Seeker of Knowledge

I would have loved Effort Grades when I was in middle school, because I would have cleaned up.

In fact, I remember the first time I discovered how happy a teacher might be if you went beyond the assignment. It was fourth grade. We were supposed to write a two-page story, and I was so excited to have writing homework that I ended up handing in a 10-pager with illustrations. If Effort Grades had existed back then, I would have received a “1”.

Most girls in my class would have too. Almost every time.

Effort Grades are about neat handwriting, raising your hand, adding to the conversation, handing in homework, being respectful, and seizing the opportunity to share what you know with your classmates.

So easy!

So, it is a complete mystery to me that a child chooses not to let his teacher know that he loves what he is learning. It perplexes me that he might choose not to do the extra credit. Or do the homework.

But over the last two weeks, my son – whose teachers express frustration regarding his effort and focus and consistency –  has spent hours teaching himself German history.

A research paper for which he chose the WWI Battle of Cambrai (aiming for the minimum page recommendation) and a WWII simulation game in Social Studies inspired him to investigate further on his own. He has watched numerous documentaries and what seems to be hundreds of short videos online to fill out his knowledge. He has talked us through the dysfunctional alliances that led to WWI, mistakes they made in WWII, what their navy was like, their innovations, their showing in past Olympics, their impressive ability to bounce back.

Of course, none of it is captured in any assignment he turned in. He will get no credit for it.

“Was all that research part of the simulation game?”


“Then does your teacher realize how much you know?”

He shrugged, “I don’t think so.”

“You should tell him!”

But apparently, that wasn’t the point. And no matter how much it drives me crazy, I’ve got to respect that, for him, the assignment and grades aren’t going to be what drive him. It’s just the knowing what he wants to know.


Historic World Series

Soccer practice was over. Homework was done. The dinner dishes were clean. So we all headed upstairs to get ready for bed, do the third grader’s out-loud reading, and watch the end of the 7th game of the World Series.

Indians versus Cubs. Two teams you want to cheer for because success must be sweeter for an almost-forever underdog. We are Rockies fans, so we know. And while we decided that 1948 and more than a century feel equally bad, we went for the longest-time loser.

And our former outfielder – a Rocky turned Cubby – started the game with an historic walk-on homerun.

But the second I closed my third grader’s The Worst Class Trip Ever, I crashed into a deep sleep. So did my husband and the third grader, while the older boys watched and cheered around us. It has been a very busy few weeks.

Then suddenly… “Cubbies won! Cubbies won!” Boys jumping on the bed. Hi-fiving. Our dog, disturbed from slumber, barking. Three once sleeping bodies trampled on. “Go Cubs!”

An exciting Series for two teams who have wanted it for so long. Sadly, mom, dad and the third grader missed its thrilling end. Sometimes, no matter how much you want to see the ninth inning or the tenth – history in the making – your typically insignificant eyelids wield their power. And you sleep.

How History Enters the Mind of a 13 Year Old Boy

This morning’s news celebrated the release of ten U.S. sailors held captive by Iran. So when my seventh grade son asked me if I remembered the Iran Hostage Crisis of 1979, when approximately 60 US citizens were held captive for 444 days, I was impressed.

He seems to teach himself things in a stream of consciousness approach to learning, his path twisting and turning randomly as bits of information catch his fancy. It’s a cool way to learn, even if it distracts from his homework.

“I do remember.”

“Well, do you remember that they broadcast the Super Bowl so the hostages got to watch it? I wonder how they did that.”

Of course! Football!

He actually had not yet read the news about the U.S. sailors. The question on this day was completely coincidental. As a football trivia junkie, his reading about the NFL connects him to a broader history. A few days ago, he wanted to know if Richard Nixon was a good President. I talked through his foreign policy skills, China and Watergate. The important fact, it turns out, was that he “was not a good play caller.”

In school, we often use the art or literature of an era as a way to help us understand the past. He uses sports. Reading about past Super Bowls, looking at old photos of athletes and teams and stadiums, and a close following of the NFL timeline all lead to non-football discoveries. He digs into what that event was, or if people liked that President, or why there were hostages, how long they were there, and what people like me remember.

And the next time the Super Bowl comes up with an unsuspecting friend, he will ask, “Did you know that during the Iran Hostage Crisis, they broadcast the Super Bowl so the hostages could watch? How cool is that?!”


Best Sports Moment in History

Today, in their last game, my son’s soccer team finished the season undefeated.

It was his 6th birthday.

And when he scored his goal, he sprinted straight off the field, shouting joy, and tackled me in front of his team, his coach, his opponents, the entire kindergarten-YMCA-soccer-world.

They say winning the Super Bowl is great. I cry when my basketball favorites win the NCAA tournament. A World Series win for the home team is amazing, especially when you are in the ballpark. A victory at the Kentucky Derby, a gold medal at the Olympics… until today, they were the best moments in sports.

But nothing in all of sports will ever again beat my son tackling me after his goal the day he turned six.

King Richard and His Brother John: What We Learned from Robin Hood

We watched an animated version of Robin Hood this Sunday on the way home from our ski weekend. It generated a few questions like: “If King Richard was real, was Robin Hood?” and “Is it really okay to steal if you give it to the poor?” and “Can we go to Sherwood Forest?”

But the most in-depth conversation followed a day later:

10 year old: If we were royalty, since I’m the oldest, I would be king.

9 year old: I would be a prince.

10 year old: You know what happened to Prince John when King Richard came back from the Crusades?

9 year old: Richard put him in jail.

10 year old: Didn’t he chop off his head?

9 year old: Nope.

The ten year old looked at me for confirmation.

Me: I don’t think so. Richard was a good guy.

10 year old: If I were Richard, I would only chop off the head of a cousin I didn’t like.

Me: But you like your cousins.

10 year old: Just saying I wouldn’t chop off my brother’s head no matter what.

9 year old: I wouldn’t want to steal your stupid crown anyway.

Me to the 10 year old: The best kings have smart brothers who they can make generals. You’re lucky, because your brother is so good at strategizing. He’d be a good general for you.

10 year old: I’m good at strategizing too!

9 year old: But I am really good at it.

Me: And a good king always surrounds himself with people who are as good at strategizing as he is. That’s how he wins the battles. Good, loyal brothers who are as smart and good as he is, who he can trust more than anybody.

10 year old: Yeah, I wouldn’t chop off his head.

9 year old: Good.

10 year old: Unless you tried to kill me.

Maybe I should have mentioned that the Sherwood Forest Falcons were in desperate need of a quarterback. The battling brothers would have left the five year old to rule uncontested with little need to chop off any heads.

The Third Child in the Photo Album

My sister complains that my parents stopped taking photographs soon after their only photogenic child was born. She is the youngest of three girls, and though we insist there are plenty of pictures of her in the family album, she is right.

What she doesn’t understand is that it was her destiny, as it is with most third children.

Last night, my oldest son was asking questions about his great-grandparents. He is the only of my children to have met my grandmother Frances, and though he does not remember her, he thinks it is important. He and the middle child knew my husband’s grandmother, who we all called Gram.

I offered to show them a photo album that my mother put together for Christmas six years ago.

I clearly wasn’t thinking.

We all snuggled into my bed and I showed them their ancestors on the first pages of the album, then pictures of my sisters and I growing up, my high school graduation, our wedding, and the first years of their lives. They asked lots of questions and made fun of my braces and 80s hair. They laughed at how their Dad had a goatee when they were born. They remembered certain shirts they used to wear.

Then my third son started to cry.

He wasn’t in the album.

He was born a year after it was given to me.

He realized right then that there was a time when we were all together without him making memories that we saved for history.

Fortunately, I have enough photographs of him to create an entire album, and he is only five. Like my youngest sister, the camera loves him. And like my sister’s, his stories make ours a richer, happier history.

The third child, though they may be late to the party, always leave an impression that no one can forget… even when there are fewer pictures to memorialize it.

Report Cards: A History Lesson

So it begins again…

My sons received their first trimester report cards yesterday. My fourth grader’s sounded just like mine did, and I told him so. I feel for him.

I am pretty sure that every report card I ever got ended with “She’s such an intelligent girl. I wish she’d share her thoughts with the rest of the class.”

In Social Studies, his echoed mine 35 years later. “I would like to hear more from him” and “I know that he can offer his classmates some great insight.”

In Science, “He is a bright young man and needs to share his insights with the rest of the class.”

In Spanish, more of the same. “Although quiet, he shows a remarkable understanding…”

Ahhhh, history. It does like to repeat itself. Poor guy!