Monday, January 20, 2014
Despite her efforts to conceal them, the tears in my student's eyes were undeniable. The "can I talk to you" moment began just a brief moment earlier, with the pretense of a visit to the restroom. Our side talk was clearly more than that. Her tears were because she realized that with the without a report card full of the first two letters of the alphabet and that her phone, gaming system, favorite sport, etc, were all going to go away for a few months until the next marking period was concluded.
To my dismay, at the end of almost every grading period, several of my students lob inquiries in my direction as to what are their grades will be when report cards are issued. No one ever asks, "how much did I learn this marking period?" or "how much content did I not master?" Grades. Always the grade. Sigh.
Most students don't remember the great progress they have made in their writing and how much smoother their sentences are to the reader. They don't recognize the difference in their science journals and how they're asking better questions and how more completely they're answering end of investigation questions. Lost in a symbolic letter, is how much growth they've shown in their comprehension of a literary text or how much better they are in analyzing information in reference texts.
Remember that terrific project that you chose and the imaginative way you demonstrated your understanding? Yes, and I'm sorry, but you have a C+ on this quarter's report card.
When I taught 1st Grade, my school didn't assign grades until the 3rd grade. We reported on individual skills and broader concepts. That method, though very labor intensive, made much more sense to me. The conversations with home partners were usually very productive. The format allowed the students and parents what we still needed to work on.
Since I started teaching 6th Grade, things have changed.
Almost without fail, home partners ask the wrong questions. Grades. Always the grade. They praise the letters, but don't ask about the learning. It seems they only see the letter. Privileges get taken away. Sports get taken away. Groundings occur. The pressure to get a letter that starts earlier in the alphabet increases. At some point, though I don't know when that is, the student stops trying to learn and focuses on grades.
I have conversations at at open house and conferences that my focus is on improving their kid's critical thinking, analysis and conclusion making skills. I let them know their kids will have choices on how to demonstrate what they've mastered. I want them to be creative and not just have them give me what they think I want.
I try to use assessment tools that allow for that. I'm not always successful. Sometimes what I've taught doesn't match the assessment. Sometimes what they've learned isn't accurately assessed. I'm trying to get better, just like their student.
Maybe that C+ is my fault. Maybe I should have all of the things that I enjoy doing taken away from me. Maybe I should turn in my bikes and guitars. Maybe I should be grounded.
Or maybe I could do a better job helping parents and students understand that learning is a process and not characterized solely by a letter.
Thanks for reading.
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Tuesday, December 31, 2013
My family and I decorated our Christmas tree recently and despite the difficulty of convincing a 15 yr old to put down his phone and countering his arguments of disrupting his "weekend vibe" (essentially, listening to music, playing video games, and keeping a high maintenance girlfriend at bay) we kept our family tradition alive.
We have several boxes of ornaments and as our family gets...older...shall we say, the growing challenge is which ornaments we leave off. My typical solution is to buy a bigger and fatter tree. More ornaments, more tree. That suggestion is usually met with, "that tree is ridiculously big" to "do I need to remind of the green scrapes on the ceiling?" from my more reasonable and much wiser wife.
The traditional soundtrack of Burl Ives and Lena Horne propelled our decorating efforts as I paused occasionally to review the memories I was placing on our Grand Fir. As I went along, I began to think about how many different contributors we've had to our family tree. It's fun to watch the tree get 'built up' over the evening as the anticipation of the "big lighting" when it is finished.
There were ornaments that reminded me of family trips, special moments, and ones of our former pets that made me choke up here and there. There were many though, that were gifts from friends and family near and far. The wooden carving from Israel, hand-painted ones from various locales. Ones that looked good to somebody. The beautiful, thoughtful, goofy, and sometime bizarre all make it to the tree. I'll leave one of our ornaments in the box before I pack away one that was given to us. Even the way too heavy ones.
The completed tree is always beautiful and intriguing to look at. It never looks the same from year to year.
I started to think about how my students are similar to our Christmas tree. I get a new batch of students every year. Fresh trees, if you will. Over the course of our ten months together, I get a chance to add ornaments of learning to their tree. Some of the things taught will remain on display, while some will get put away.
The hard part is giving each of these kids a chance to find an 'ornament' that they are proud of. Something (a paper, a project) they want to display (share) or (topic) explore further. I know that everything that we do over the course of a school year won't be included in a child's tree. Not everything we do get them excited about learning, but I'm not the only one contributing to their learning. Their 'trees' get built up by uncountable influences as they move through life.
I just hope that some of what we do in Room 216 has value for them, so that they want to take it out of the box and make the world better place to look at.
Thanks for Reading and Happy New Year.
Follow me on Twitter @YourKidsTeacher