Putting it All Together 2021 Style
May 11, 2021
Usually this time of year, I have my feet in two boats proverbially. I am looking back over the last year and considering what might have been more helpful and what worked well. Shifting through papers and books shuffled around all year and putting them right. We are working on assessments and considering class placements for the next year. Planning for summer work both for us and the students. May is busy.
This year the mix seems more complicated that usual. I have had more than 35 years of closing down a year and looking toward a new one, but both views look blurry to me right now. I cannot tell when I look at data or talk to students and teachers what is the chicken and what is the egg. It’s easy to blame everything on the pandemic… disrupted school, hybrid learning, changes, changes, changes. When we look close is it all of this just revealing what was always there.
The pandemic and all of the instructional moves we have made has given us an opportunity to freshen our teaching style, to let go of the way we have always done it and if not embrace, at least try a new way that is more successful for students. But what defines success?
We have recently shifted to a new benchmarking system completely driven by the students. In this assessment, the students log into a computer, answer questions the teacher never sees, and in the end, the teacher is left by a computer generated interpretation of what instruction should look like for a student. Time saving, perhaps. Less labor intensive that one-on-one assessment, maybe. But as a coach I’m left thinking what does this really tell the teachers that informs the instruction or evaluates the progress? In this time crunched, abbreviated year, what truths can we walk away with?
This is a lot for a Tuesday…
My job of course is to look at the bigger trends, how many students began the year at benchmark? How many students are still at benchmark now? How many students were well below, some below and now have approached benchmark? What is benchmark? Are we still looking at arbitrary numbers of what the non-existent average student might achieve in a completely controlled year? Are you beginning to wonder as I am, how do these numbers inform our coaching, our daily work, the work of the students?
Before we go to far. I am not prepared to throw everything out. I believe in whole school assessments. I believe in broad views and… I believe in granular views.
Yesterday a mother asked me to explain her child’s assessments that drive my instruction and what program I am using to remediate his difficulties. Remediate is my word for many inquiries on her part. In the end, she was thinking that writing was the mechanics of handwriting and I was thinking that writing was the composition of thought. Talk about your two boats! Her emails made me consider how do we decide who needs help and what kind of help they need?
For this kiddo, it was his parents’ concern along with our closer look at his writing. Initially, I just supported writing at home. As we transitioned back to school, I conferred in the workshop. How to measure success in writing? Is it spelling? Conventions? A rubric? A checklist? I know it’s all of that along with structure and elaboration, idea generation and mechanics.
After all these years, do I really use a program or is it like my cooking and I generally follow a recipe, but I slip in a few more ingredients based on what I have at hand? These are the questions that I wake up with this day. I’ll be searching for the answers for a while.