Amazing Kids

Amazing Kids

Sunday, November 10, 2013

It's That Time Again

As teachers, the end of each quarter requires entering grades and comments for every student report card onto a standardized program that is supposed to communicate to parents how their child is progressing in school.  It seems as though every kid is affected by their report card, though, either positively or negatively. I remember mine always being an anxious event and made me feel worse about myself rather than better.

For many years, the American education system has had an unspoken (or in some districts spoken) rule about how to "do" grades. The rule of thumb seems to be to spend time in the classroom working on a concept, hand out worksheets or other assignments about the concept, collect the worksheets (or projects), and grade them. If a student's worksheets aren't done properly or turned in on time, his or her grade is negatively affected. Then they're given a test that they complete quietly at their desks. That test is supposed to show how smart (or not) they are.

We just finished our first quarter. My fourth-graders have not yet taken a "test".  That's a little scary to say out loud. (I should probably clarify that we have formative assessments all the time, and kids are constantly being asked to rate their own understanding and skill set in every subject area.)

I got to thinking about the whole test thing through the lens of our real lives. In the various (and numerous) careers I had before entering teaching, I didn't take tests. I may have had a yearly evaluation; in fact, in most positions, I did have a yearly evaluation. It was a conversation, though, where my progress was discussed and goals for the future were made. It was encouraging and challenging. It reminded me of my strengths and weaknesses, and spurred me on to reach for new goals. I had a specific job with a job description and hours in which to do my job. I didn't have homework (until I became a teacher) either, and if I had to work overtime, often my superior would offer some comp time.

If I truly want to prepare my kids for their futures, teaching them how to take a test doesn't seem like a crucial element. What is absolutely essential is for each child to be able to read, to love reading, to write, to enjoy and feel confident in their writing. They need to understand numbers and make sense of them. They really need to be able to solve problems, whether that's number problems or life problems. And they DO need to demonstrate mastery of a concept or skill. But over all of that, I want my students to know in their heads and in their hearts that they are learning and growing and developing.

My kids have learning targets. They know what their goals are. They keep track of how they're doing on those targets (goals). I know, too. I know some of them have far exceeded their learning goals and others are still struggling. Each time we chat about their book, each time they edit and revise, each time they practice a math skill, they are showing what they know. In social studies our kids have shown what they know by choosing a format in which they demonstrated their learning. Most of the kids did a great job using their creativity (music, posters, and art) and the technology we have at our disposal (prezi, PowerPoint and iMovie). It was interesting to observe that some kiddos had trouble landing on what they wanted to produce and others knew immediately.

The bottom line, though, is that every kid has grown. Every kid is further down the road.

How do you report learning at report card time? Do you have a secret or idea to share or some insight? What are your thoughts on including homework or lowering grades for assignments not turned in?

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