One thing I learned about junior high kids is that they are keenly tuned in to ‘what is fair’. While they don’t always act ‘fair’ themselves, they are very critical of anyone else not acting ‘fair’. Come to think about it, that’s not exclusive to junior high kids.
A few years back the idea of ‘distribution of wealth’ became a popular political football. Some kids thought it was “fair”. Why should some people have so much money and others not have enough to live on? Others thought everyone should get what they worked for.
I decided the best way for the kids to understand the principle was to apply it to the classroom. The ‘wealth’ to be distributed was their grades. If your grade was 92 and another student’s was 56, then you would owe 18 points to the student with 56. Both would receive a grade of 74 for the assignment.
The next assignment I returned had two grades. The top grade was their personal grade; the other was a ‘distributed’ grade. The grades looked like this: 98/67 or 43/67. The class average grade was the one everyone would receive.
Positive and negative reactions lined up just as I expected. The high scoring students were upset. The low scoring students and especially the ones that did not do the assignment were quite happy.
The next day, when a spelling/vocabulary assignment was given, the first question a student asked was how the assignment would be graded. I said that we would be ‘distributing the wealth.’
It was usual for 4–6 kids out of 32 not to do the assignment. This time 12 did not turn in the assignment and the average grade had dropped to around 50. I asked the kids to write in their learning logs what they thought of ‘distribution of wealth’ after our experiment. The responses went something like this;
“I didn’t try too hard ‘cuz I knew I would get someone’s points.”
“I didn’t do it. I don’t want someone else getting my points that I earned.”
“I sometimes don’t do my work so getting points from students that get good grades seemed like a cool idea.”
A few days later, I gave the kids a chance for extra credit by doing a project on a novel we were studying.
Mark, a top student, asked, “If I do the extra credit work, will you take some of my points and give them to another student?
“What if I said, ‘yes’, some of your points would be given to other students?”
“Then I’m not going to do it!” he said.
“What if I said, ‘no’, you keep all your points?”
“Then I’ll do it,”
There were two results that every student realized after our little experiment in ‘distribution of wealth’. First, the effort that students put into their assignments dropped noticeably. Second, the brightest refused to go above and beyond.
Lesson learned! Everybody loses!!!