In my day, I often wish for witnesses. I wish there were “others” in the room to observe and see, to share the experiences. Yesterday, was one of those days. Of course, I know that there are those of you who would gladly visit, and I would warmly welcome you, but it seems it’s never quite the same when it’s planned. I wish you could just materialize or see without my knowing and witness the moments authentically. I wish I could just “livestream” my class and let people check in when they wanted. Maybe next year?
Anyway, back to yesterday. Why a witness? Well, it was a “test” day. The kids started their Night final. Okay. So what was there to see? Ordinarily, test days are otherwise “unobservable days,” for kids are just sitting silently at their desks, taking the test. Nothing to see. But the 180 classroom is not an ordinary classroom. I can and will do things that are out of the ordinary to reach the paramount goal: growth. And it all stems from the difference between an “assessment of learning” and an “assessment for learning.” Yes, I use the assessments as a measurement, to see how the kids fare against the standards, but I also use it to inform my instruction, and yesterday I discovered it can be an opportunity to give feedback in real time.
As the graphic above suggests, once we put a grade on something the learning is generally “over.” We teachers know this. True. It frequently is manifested by kids who ignore our comments just to find the letter grade. The final judgment. The summative sentence. In the gradeless 180 classroom, in a sense, there are no summative assessments. By design, they are all formative. Their sole purpose is to promote growth, to be vehicles for feedback. Yesterday, I saw a chance to transform my approach and give feedback during the process. Simply said, I helped kids on the test. For those who requested it, I gave them feedback along the way. Doing and feedback are necessary growth steps. Growth is the ultimate goal. Thus, growth should be a part of the equation for everything that we do, including “tests.” But does that taint the product? Does my helping the process skew the outcome? I don’t know. I don’t think so. Katie (name changed) visited my desk 5 times yesterday for help on her introduction. This is what my help looked/sounded like.
- “Look at the board, Kate. What’s missing in your TAGS ? Go back to your desk.”
- “Nope,” as I scribbled out several lines. “Why did Elie share his story? You have to consider and include the greater context. Back to your seat.” Exasperated sigh from Katie.
- “Okay. Now we’re talking. Now we have to get to you and the passage. I see the passage but I don’t know what the specific impact is. You can’t just say, ‘it impacted me greatly.’ How did this passage affect you? Did it disturb you, horrify you, dishearten you? You got this.” A reassuring tap on her elbow. “Back to it, kiddo.
- “Okay. Better. But now you have to go back and tie all of this together. You’re almost there.”
- “Now we’re dancing. Good. Your ready to jump into the rest of the essay. You’ll be fine.”
I think that’s learning. I think Katie found herself in the “struggle zone” yesterday. The challenge was high, thinking was required, and with my help, the stress was low. Yesterday’s graphic suggested that those were the elements of effective learning. Though I cannot speak to that definitively or defend it empirically, I can share earnestly that I believe Katie grew yesterday. I want others to share that belief. I want others to rethink and re-imagine learning. I want others to witness the potential of different, the reward of risk. To be clear, I am not suggesting that I have it all figured out. To be sure, I am just trying to do different to do better, and I want to share my journey.
Happy Friday, all. Have a splendid weekend.