The papers were piled on my desk—some with names, some without, some neatly-written, some chicken-scratched. Fourth grade homework comes in many styles. One by one, I corrected the work, noting the students’ struggles and relative ease in creating equivalent fractions, adding and subtracting fractions, and the ever-popular simplifying of their answers.
I came to one student’s work, and the task of grading became less of a mundane task. The ten-year-old had written the following words on top of her paper: I am terrible at math.
This girl is engaged in her work, hands in her homework on time, asks questions during lessons, and has a fine conceptual understanding. I corrected her paper and discovered that she had responded correctly to most of the problems. So why this cryptic note?
I asked her, and her answer surprised me. “Well, usually I can just answer the questions and it’s really easy. These took me a long time and they were really hard.”
What had made this confident, capable young girl think she was inadequate because she had struggled to get the correct answer?
What if teachers gave stars for the struggle?
What if we celebrated the process as much as we celebrated the outcome?
What if the journey was as valuable as reaching the destination?
Perhaps then, this girl would have a different note written on the top of her paper.