I really love Paul Solarz’ book Learn Like a Pirate. This is one of the lessons he discusses that I did in my class and I think it’s really going to make an impact on the culture of my classroom. It’s called the Marble Theory. All of this came straight out of Paul’s book, and I am claiming no credit. I just wanted to share it because this mind set has been awesome for my third graders so far this school year.
The Marble Theory says that we are all born with the same number of marbles in our brains. When we are born they are just in a big pile, but over time we put them into cups. The cups represent our skills, talents, and abilities. We can have as many cups as we need and these cups are extremely specialized. For example, we don’t have a cup for reading abilities. Instead, we have several cups for reading: one dedicated to decoding, one for literal comprehension, one for oral reading fluency, etc. But we also have cups dedicated to dribbling a basketball, drawing horses, telling jokes, and playing the flute.
In school, teachers usually spend time evaluating how many marbles students have in their academic cups, causing children to falsely assume that grades determine how intelligent they are. We are all equal in terms of intelligence and intelligence needs to be measured differently. Low grades given fosters disappointment, high grades create extrinsically motivated perfectionists. Take away the focus on grades! We embrace failure as a learning opportunity and as acknowledgement of taking risks.