South Africa 2014: Students don’t give up and Teachers assess properly!

Preparing to roll back into the pool

We are zipping through our Open Dive Course and it is feeling good.  We finish off with the theory and prepare for our final confined water dive.  The impending swim without my mask is terrifying me but I proceed forth.  We roll backwards off the bench, a task the others were fearing, into the cold pool water.

Thankfully, the first task is, indeed, the maskless swim and my turn is first.  I am encouraged by the example of our teacher as he makes it seem so simple.  It is so much easier than the first exercise.  I actually feel relaxed about it and experience zero panic.  As soon as I'm finished I let the other people in my group know that it was easy by giving them the double OK signal.  Fortunately, everyone else ends with a double "OK" as well.   The rest of the confined water dive is a piece of cake.

We take our final exam and mark it.  One person in our group must retake but we'll do it later tonight.  So, most of us head to the beach to see that for the first time.  One student is remaining on site to finish up some skills that she couldn't complete in our earlier confined dives so I stay with her.

One student , Samantha (I have permission to use her name and photos) had been so overwhelmed with the mask task that she had exited the water the day before.  The experience had panicked and scared her to a point of tears.  Today she finished all the theory and testing with us and has only the confined water dives to complete, including both mask tasks. 

Samantha waits patiently for all the other groups to finish their confined water dives and then enters the frigid waters with the other students who were struggling with the mask.    They are a group of five.  The sun is beginning to set and the water is probably at its coldest.  Already, admiration builds within me as my own courage would wane if I were expected to enter the water this late in the day and face three confined water dives without my peers.  However, Samantha jumps in without hesitation, however, within minutes there are signs of her feeling cold.

I'm sitting in the sun.  It's warm and peaceful.  I watch carefully when it's Samantha’s turn to go, and am relieved that she easily completes the mask-removal skill that so befuddled her the day before.  Before a half hour has passed, all the other students have dropped out because they can’t work the mask or they are too cold.  Samantha, however, carries on, determined to catch up with the others in her group.  I watch the on goings around the pool and chat with the instructors.  It is relaxing and I am hoping the rest of our group is enjoying the beach and that Samantha will finish the confined water dives.  The temperatures drop with the setting sun and I seriously wonder if she can survive in the water to finish all the requirements. Task after task she completes with a steady eye on her goal.  She doesn’t deviate.  She’s asked if she wants to exit the pool before continuing but she declines.  Finally, diving instructor and successful student, both blue-lipped, exit the pool.  Samantha becomes the hero of the day as she has endured the frigid waters for longer than anyone else during this entire certification process, persevering to complete the tasks.  Everyone around the pool cheers her success.

That evening our student that required reassessment of the written exam, studies diligently in the mess hall.  Her peers surround her writing practice problems, quizzing her, and encouraging her.  Here is another student that won’t give up.  Surrounding her at other tables student groups socialize, play cards, and celebrate the end of the day.  However, this student pours over the dive manual and asks questions and seeks to master the content.  Later, the dive instructor takes her to a secluded place and gives her another opportunity to pass the exam.  She emerges triumphant and once again we have cause to celebrate.

These two students have set a great example today of determination.  Everyone in our group expresses admiration and is genuinely congratulatory.  We all feel good. 

Students studying from their dive manuals in the mess hall, even though there will be no grade assigned to the HW.

On another note, we have not earned grades in dive certification.  Though we all have homework, no one received a grade for it.  The homework was utilized to determine what else we needed to learn.  There was a set of skills and a specific amount of knowledge to be mastered.  SIMPLE.  No one was ranked.  Everyone simply had to master the skills to move on.  This is the climate we should achieve in the “regular” classroom in schools.  Create environment wherein no one gives up.  Foster an atmosphere in which everyone is motivated to continue until skills and content are mastered.  Build in time for all to complete the tasks.  Provide extra support so all will succeed.  Praise perseverance and hard work.  Of course, in the end, this leads me back to one of my favorite subjects.  We need to assess students on what they know and can do.  Period.  In diving, you need to know the skills so that you do not die underwater.  Thus, it would have been ridiculous to “pass” someone simply because he/she completed all the homework, worked hard, had a good attitude, and was focused in every lesson.  While those skills are important, they don’t necessarily add up to being a good diver and it would be ethically irresponsible to pass someone based on those criteria.  Needless to say, I advocate a similar approach to education in schools! 

Cheers to determined students and proper assessments!