Last night I watching my son play his final t-ball game and as usual, found myself distracted with my thoughts. A dad came up to my son and told him that he was the MVP. He was dominant. When everyone else was hitting off a tee, he was hitting the ball pitched to him. When others were hitting the ball back to the mound, he was hitting to the outfield. When others were kicking up dirt, he was tagging and throwing double plays…but… has he reached his potential? Has he “made it”. Has he reached a level where he has “got it”? Is he proficient?
In schools today we have turned our focus so much on making learning and acquiring skills into a “got it-don’t got it” approach that we often miss the mark. We make learning seem binary- yes or no. We assess kids and then label them as proficient or not proficient. We mark answers as right or wrong. Instead, our focus needs to be on their progression through the process.We need to understand that learning is not a light-bulb moment where we know “it” or we don’t. It is always a process, a progression.
My son was a great t-ball player, but how do I know? Did I give him a test of the rules? Did I ask him to throw to first? Did I measure his farthest hit? What matters most? What makes him successful?
My son is not in the majors. My son has never even worn a real pair of cleats. Sure, I can compare him to other kids and their development today, but this does not mean he will continue to develop and that other kids won’t someday pass him by.
In schools, our job is not to label students. Our job is not to compare students based on an arbitrary date in time. Our job is to prepare students for their life, a life outside of school, both in the future as well as today.
In your school and in your classroom this year, try to find a way to measure the process of learning and quit trying to simplify things in a way that actually makes no sense. It is because of our quest to measure things, all things, when we don’t fully understand what and how we are measuring them, that has found us stuck. Embrace the process, embrace the journey, and you will be amazed at the results.
If you are giving an assessment where you are able to mark answers as right or wrong and all questions carry the same weight, then it is time to reflect. It is time to determine how you can measure where in the journey students are. If you don’t know how to measure, how to plan, how to instruct based on the progression, here is a great place to start.
When measuring what a student knows and can do, don’t fall for the trap of believing a kid has to climb the ladder. He does not have to demonstrate he can do low level tasks before demonstrating the ability to think deeper. My son does not have to prove he can hit off a tee if he can already show he can hit off a pitcher. In my classroom, a student should not have to prove he can define “democracy” if he can already debate voting rights laws. A student should not have to prove he has mathematical fluency by taking a timed math test if he can already calculate speed and velocity. It is our job to figure out what a student can do and move from there.
Twenty years ago when I went to a mechanic to fix my car because it was making a rattling noise, I might end up spending a few thousand dollars as seemingly every issue from tire alignment to my fuel pump would be assessed and “fixed” to solve the issue. Today when I take my car in, a mechanic can plug my car into a diagnostic computer and pinpoint a specif deficit to address. This is where we need to be in schools. We need to use our assessments as diagnostics, pinpointing specific successes and struggles and targeting our support and assistance. Just like every car, every make and model, requires different solutions to seemingly similar problems, so do our students.
Let’s stop trying to treat all students the same way and stop seeing learning as something easily measured and compared. Embrace the process. Embrace the unique nature of every child. Embrace growth. Embrace progress. Embrace students.
Find out more about this by reading my book It’s Like Riding a Bike: How to make
Be on the lookout in August 2019 for my next book, released by EduGladiators, titled Bold Humility
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