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Learning for Learning’s Sake
Jae Won Moon '20 Associate Editor
April 24, 2019

I went to a K-12 school in South Korea, and I left after a long 8 years because as I watched my fellow students check their grades every minute as if they were checking the scores on sports games. That kind of atmosphere felt like it was the exact opposite of what education should be. To me, education is an empowering exercise that pushes students to further question and explore their curiosity. There simply cannot be a perfect system anywhere, period. However, despite all its imperfections, Deerfield has served a special role in my education thus far. Students are genuinely curious and motivated to learn. Although Deerfield is very close to wholly embodying the true sense of education, I would like to make three suggestions so that we, as an institution, can move forward to an even better school. The three solutions are that midterms should exclude numerical grades and instead include face-to-face conferences; there should be substantial opportunities for reflections on their progress; and Socratic seminars should be restructured.

Credit: Madeline Lee

First, since there must be some way to distinguish students, getting rid of numerical grades does not seem like a plausible solution. However, I believe there needs to be fundamental restructuring of how midterm progress is communicated to students. Midterm reports that show numerical grades online without a comment have been shown as inefficient. In a study by Education Testing Services, a nonprofit educational assessment organization, their data suggested that the source and the form of the midterm progress reports have direct correlation with a students’ final exam grade. For instance, a student who received a grade for a midterm but no feedback scored an estimated marginal mean score of 75.37 on their final exam. On the other hand, students who received no grade and face-to-face feedback from the instructor earned an estimated marginal mean score of 82.74. The difference in the method of midterms feedback was even greater for low-scoring students. This discrepancy may be due to the personal connection that students feel with the teacher, which drives intellectual curiosity and motivation. The difference in the way that midterm feedback is given seems to affect the students’ motivation to learn as well as their interest in the material. Although providing feedback face-to-face for every student would take a bit longer, I believe in the long run that it will be beneficial because it will further motivate students to be genuinely interested and work harder.

An educational philosopher John Dewey once said, “We do not learn from experience… We learn from reflecting on experience.” I cannot agree more with Professor Dewey’s statement. I believe that the process of learning and its reflection is as important as reading the canons or learning chemistry. There is no doubt that Deerfield students are very excited to learn. Just like my classmates, I am eager to move on and tackle the next lesson right away. However, there have been times when I have felt that I am using methods that do not work and expect them to work again because there is just simply no time to reflect. At Deerfield, I believe that after assessments or projects, we should reflect on the methods that have worked and those that have not and look for better ways to make our learning more efficient. We learn an incredibly wide range of topics at Deerfield, but I believe that the time that we spend learning the content is unproportional to the time given to reflect on them. The process of learning at school often leads to one single exam, test or paper, but learning does not merely stop after your final paper. Learning begins when you start applying, connecting and reflecting the lessons you learned through each lesson. Reflecting on assessments and methods will urge Deerfield students to critically think about their learning and to be more efficient on their next unit.

Finally, there needs to be a restructuring of the Socratic seminars so that they align with their definition. Socrates, for whom the seminars are named after, is known to have said, “The only thing I know is that I know nothing.” That is exactly how he started every one of his dialogues. He went in assuming that the person whom he was talking to was an expert and asked questions so that both of them could reach a deeper understanding. With his rhetorical method known as the “elenchus,” Socrates refuted and taught his opponents who felt as if they were the expert on their topic. There is a fundamental problem with Socratic Seminars at Deerfield. Often times, I feel like students go in with the belief that their point is the only right point and participate just for the sake of participating. This problem stems from the fact that students are graded individually. I would suggest that Socratic Seminars be graded holistically based on how far the group gets as a whole and how well they develop their understanding of the topic. Once this change is made, I believe that students will more willingly and genuinely participate.

To reemphasize, Deerfield is an incredible institution with some of the most passionate teachers in the country. But, with these changes, I believe that we will be able to fine-tune the ways that we encourage students and create an atmosphere that fosters intellectual growth.