Guest bloggers on The Inspired Classroom and I have often touched upon personal philosophies of education.  These philosophies have ranged from technology to special ed, to education and teaching in general.  My first written philosophy of ed (from about 13 years ago) compared teaching to gardening, and I was brought back to those images once again while reading Revisiting Professional Learning Communities at Work – New Insights for Improving Schools (DuFour, DuFour, Eaker, 2008).  Early in the book, the authors mentioned how throughout history, many schools have tended to use teaching strategies and assessments in particular to “weed” out the less successful students so that the other students can move on to greater success; a “sort and select” process.

When you first hear this, you may think this is horrible.  I did.  But sometimes you have to face reality and realize that methods of “sorting and classifying” children and young adults happen all the time.  But the image of “weeding” out the students who are not getting it at a steady pace?  That is simply not what education should be about.  So – I ask you (and myself): Are we weeding or cultivating?

If the purpose of education is to develop high achieving students, then we also need to develop learners, life-long learners, people who show a love of all learning as they strive for their personal best.  Sounds corny, huh?  But it’s true.  We need to help students understand that learning is a natural part of life.  Whether they are learning basic skills, necessary curriculum or more about what interests them, our job is to cultivate that learning, not squash it.

In the chapters on assessment that I have read, an example of this really stood out for me.  In a school culture build around PLCs, if  students are given a common formative assessment and fail in any aspect, they are given extra support as well as another opportunity to retake the assessment.  But here’s the clincher: The student’s new grade replaces the old one.

All through my schooling, that would not have happened.  Instead the two grades would be averaged for a final assessment grade.  And this is a practice I have carried into my own teaching (that is until about 2 weeks ago!)  I had to pause for a moment and really think this through.  If a student works hard to learn the material for which he is accountable (even after the majority of the class is done), retakes a variation of the assessment and does considerably better, shouldn’t he receive the new grade and not an average of the two?

Here are two quotes from the book that helped transform my thinking:

  • We have yet to find a (school) mission statement that says, “(Students) must all learn fast or the first time we teach it.”
  • If some students must work longer and harder to succeed, but they become proficient, their grade should reflect their ultimate proficiency, not their early difficulty.”  (p. 219)

Makes sense, doesn’t it?

Another example of this, which I LOVED, was when the authors wrote about how teachers in one school assigned students to write an essay and then they didn’t give them a grade.  Instead, the teachers wrote feedback for each student, handed the essays back, gave students time to revise and then graded the next draft.  I think this is a wonderful practice that really demonstrates to students that you want them to learn and succeed at what they are doing.

Students who are told that feedback ‘will help you learn’ learn more than those who are told that ‘how you do tells us how smart you are and what grades you’ll get.’ (p. 223)

Again, it just makes sense!

One of my goals in teaching is to cultivate learners.  I try to spend a lot of time getting students to become aware of their learning styles, getting them to take ownership of their own learning.  It’s important to not just preach this, but practice it.  Students deserve the opportunity to learn and even practice how to learn.  And in the 21 century, it’s not about weeding anymore in education, it MUST be about cultivating life-long learners.

~EMP

Creating Common Formative Assessments
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