At last week’s Morning Meeting, I read Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco to our young students gathered in the multipurpose room. This endearing book explores the discovery of a learning difference in a young girl long frustrated with school. A special teacher, Mr. Falker, comes along in her fifth-grade year and makes a life-changing difference for her. My purpose for reading this inspiring story was twofold. One was to further demonstrate the need to build empathy for different ways we each may learn in the classroom, the other was to remind the girls how influential a teacher can be in the lives of a student. I reminded them that the next week parents would receive a “report card” that outlines their learning and marks their progress at this point in the year. My message included a nod to the hard work teachers put into writing these detailed reports and how it reflects the way teachers know them so well. However, I also emphasized that, like the main character in the story, we all have different ways of learning and the most important comparison is not against the reports of other classmates but against the reports before and after this one as it demonstrates personal progress. It is important to remember that we are all on a continuum of learning and may be in different places with that learning. The important thing is to keep the joy in the process.
The process is always more important than the product, and it should remain exciting and engaging and challenging so we continue to push forward to greater learning. As schools evolve and respond to a changing world, this will only become more important. There will be less emphasis on an end product, the graded essay, the ribbon on the science project and more on a portfolio of ongoing explorations, each one leading to a new exploration. More questions, less answers.
Last year at this time, I wrote about the “love-hate” relationship educators have with numbers, letters and percentages, otherwise known as grades. Too often students and parents become focused on these marks, which are actually just a snapshot in time and may be outdated even as the report card goes home. We try to emphasize the progress and room for growth as we sit down together with you at conferences. Each child is unique and so is their learning experience. Having an inquisitive mind and knowing the value of struggle and failure is the most important indicator of future success in the classroom and beyond. Discuss with your child how important it is to always try your best and that failure or setbacks are an important part of the learning process.
I have included again the article I shared before about how school systems and private institutions (Gilman included) are exploring new ways of documenting student learning. It will take some time and look “messy” along the way but promises to encourage what we want most for our children- less judgement by others about their abilities or strengths and more of a portfolio-type testament to what they choose to do based on their passions and interests.
Please join us this winter for a parent coffee based on these ideas and more about assessment and learning in a rapidly changing world.