The Fitz Philosophy

Submitted by Anna Jones on Fri, 05/04/2018 - 14:25 - 0 Comments
“I walked into this school understanding that there was stress and anxiety and depression and some severe mental illness issues”, says Maureen Fitzgerald, an English teacher at Lincoln High School, affectionately known as “Momo” by her students. 
 
She shows how incredibly invested she is in her students’ emotional health through her Winter Break assignment. This assignment was the Winter Kindness Challenge in which her students received a grade for recording one kind thing they did for someone else everyday of winter break. 
 
She explains the motivation behind the assignment being that “If you do kind things… You will feel happier”.  The challenge was intended to remove some barriers between her students and their happiness. Being kind to someone else releases oxytocin (the ‘love hormone’) in the brain. So, this challenge had a great potential to actually help her students.
 
Ms. Fitzgerald has devised a very specific style of teaching in an attempt to soften the blow of the “competitive, individualistic culture” that we Cardinals live in. Her assessment techniques focus on a student’s ability to grow, rather than how talented they are from the get go. 
 
Instead of the strict, harsh approach of “deadline, deadline, deadline” that many teachers enforce, Ms Fitzgerald uses a different tactic. 
 
She says she “[grades] on the revisions rather than the final product [to] encourage a growth mindset rather than a fixed.” For her, this distinction is imperative in creating a welcoming and productive environment for her students. Ms Fitzgerald believes that the traditional rubrics teachers use are  “subjective and odd” because she doesn’t think she should be able to determine the strength of your writing based on what she wants. 
 
This position is one that many of her students appreciate. It can be hard to figure out what exactly a teacher wants from you. Whether the tone you’re creating is correct, or if you structured your sentences correctly, are hard things to determine when every teacher you’ve ever had is looking for something different.
 
This is where Ms. Fitzgerald’s idea of revision based grading comes into play. When devising her teaching approach she asked herself, “how can I not perpetuate a culture of competition and how can we celebrate writing and celebrate voice?” Because of the competitive nature of the world, and especially of Lincoln High School, Ms Fitzgerald wanted to promote personal writing rather than writing with the goal of impressing someone else. 
 
Ms. Fitzgerald reports that many of her students experience lower levels of stress in her English class than any other. As one of her students, I can vouch for this. I find that, when preparing for her class, my anxiety levels are low, while my engagement in class still remains high.
 
I would grant a lot of the reason for this to her grading schema. Knowing I don’t have to worry about how she thinks my writing should sound, I’m able to focus on what I want my voice to be.
 
Ms. Fitzgerald says another reason she uses this approach is to encourage her students to  “get away from pleasing the teacher… and [to make] the student develop their writing and their identity.” 
 
Instead of promoting a system where one student is able to write their essay the night before, put in no effort and get an A, while another student spends weeks improving, putting a lot of effort in, and ultimately not reaping the benefits of their hard work, Ms Fitzgerald is acknowledging the skill-gap between students and allowing everyone to achieve the grade that their effort deserves. She explains how it’s hard to keep grading her students on achievement when she really wants to be grading them on who they are as individual people.
 
As “Momo” says, “I see the whole person.”
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