“If you always succeed in school, you’re not setting yourself up for success in life.” A. Grant, The New York Times
ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key
“A decade ago, at the end of my first semester teaching at Wharton, a student stopped by for office hours. He sat down and burst into tears. My mind
started cycling through a list of events that could make a college junior cry: His girlfriend had dumped him; he had been accused of plagiarism. ‘I just got my first A-minus,’ he said, his voice shaking.
Year after year, I watch in dismay as students obsess over getting straight A’s. Some sacrifice their health; a few have even tried to sue their school after falling short. All have joined the cult of perfectionism out of a conviction that top marks are a ticket to elite graduate schools and lucrative job offers.
I was one of them. I started college with the goal of graduating with a 4.0. It would be a reflection of my brainpower and willpower, revealing that I had the right stuff to succeed. But I was wrong.
The evidence is clear: Academic excellence is not a strong predictor of career excellence. Across industries, research shows that the correlation between grades and job performance is modest in the first year after college and trivial within a handful of years. For example, at Google, once employees are two or three years out of college, their grades have no bearing on their performance. (Of course, it must be said that if you got D’s, you probably didn’t end up at Google.)
Academic grades rarely assess qualities like creativity, leadership and teamwork skills, or social, emotional and political intelligence. Yes, straight-A students master cramming information and regurgitating it on exams. But career success is rarely about finding the right solution to a problem — it’s more about finding the right problem to solve.
In a classic 1962 study, a team of psychologists tracked down America’s most creative architects and compared them with their technically skilled but less original peers. One of the factors that distinguished the creative architects was a record of spiky grades. ‘In college our creative architects earned about a B average,’ Donald MacKinnon wrote. ‘In work and courses which caught their interest they could turn in an A performance, but in courses that failed to strike their imagination, they were quite willing to do no work at all.’ They paid attention to their curiosity and prioritized activities that they found intrinsically motivating — which ultimately served them well in their careers…This might explain why Steve Jobs finished high school with a 2.65 G.P.A., J.K. Rowling graduated from the University of Exeter with roughly a C average, and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. got only one A in his four years at Morehouse… So universities: Make it easier for students to take some intellectual risks. Graduate schools can be clear that they don’t care about the difference between a 3.7 and a 3.9…And why not let students wait until the end of the semester to declare a class pass-fail, instead of forcing them to decide in the first month?
Employers: Make it clear you value skills over straight A’s…Straight-A students: Recognize that underachieving in school can prepare you to overachieve in life. So maybe it’s time to apply your grit to a new goal — getting at least one B before you graduate.
NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.
Level: Intermediate – Advanced
Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.
Time: Approximately 2 hours.
Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.
Objective: Students will read and discuss the article with a focus on improving reading comprehension and improving oral skills. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.
I. Pre-Reading Activities
Predictions: Analyzing headings and photos
Directions: Have students examine the titles of the post and of the actual article. After they examine the photos, ask students to create a list of words and ideas that they think might be related to this article.
II. While Reading Activities
Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.
- My mind started cycling through a list of events.
- He had been accused of plagiarism.
- Year after year, I watch in dismay as students obsess over getting straight A’s.
- Some sacrifice their health.
- All have joined the cult of perfectionism.
- They think that top marks are a ticket to elite graduate schools.
- Academic grades rarely assess qualities like creativity.
- You should be willing to tolerate the occasional B.
- Some recruiters actively selected against students with high G.P.A.s
- Underachieving in school can prepare you to overachieve in life.
Grammar Focus: English Pronouns
Directions: Students are to choose the correct SUBJECT pronoun to complete the sentences. They are to choose from the options presented.
Subject pronouns: I, you, he, she, it, we, they.
A student came to the office and ___began crying.
“___just got my first A-minus,” ___said.
___watched in dismay.
Grades are a reflection of my brainpower and ___had the right stuff.
Many Students say all ___want are top marks and a ticket to elite graduate schools.
As teachers ___need to make it easier for students to take some intellectual risks.
Reading Comprehension: Fill-ins
Directions: Place students in groups and after they have read the entire article, have them complete the following sentences taken from the article. They can use the words and terms from the list provided, or provide their own terms. They are to find the meanings of any new vocabulary.
Looking back, I don’t wish my ___had been___. If I could do it over again, I’d___less. The hours I wasted ___the inner workings of the___ would have been better spent trying out___ comedy and having more___ about the meaning of life.
WORD LIST: conversations, memorizing, grades, improv, eye, higher, study,
III. Post Reading Activities
Directions: Have students use the WH-question format to discuss or to write the main points from the article.
Who or What is the article about?
Where does the action/event take place?
When does the action/event take place?
Why did the action/event occur?
How did the action/event occur?
Discussion Questions for Comprehension /Writing
Directions: Place students in groups and have them discuss the following questions/statements. Afterwards, have the groups share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can write an essay on one of the topics mentioned.
- Do you strive to get the best grades? At times do you feel pressured to make good grades? Explain your answer.
- Will strong grades lead you to success in work and life? Explain why or why not.
- Are there skills that you posses that are not reflected in your overall grades? What are they?
- In your opinion, is there too much emphasis placed on getting the best grades?
- In your opinion can you succeed in life without excellent grades? Provide some examples.
- What are some downsides in pursing straight A’s?