This week’s article summary is Seven Things Every Kid Should Master from The Boston Globe
When I was a student and later as a teacher and administrator, I was always dissatisfied with the traditional grading system, especially end of term/year grades where one letter or percentage supposedly captured how I did in a class or course. Sometimes I received (or gave) two grades—one for content mastery and the other for effort. In private schools, a narrative comment typically accompanies the grade(s) to provide a more holistic picture.
Some schools have moved—ever so slightly—to trying to measure areas other than content mastery and effort.
As I read the article, I imagined a new type of progress report system and a whole new way of teachers monitoring and measuring student growth and progress. It’s not that these are the seven perfect areas to assess: it’s more a challenge to all of us to think beyond the traditional manner of assessing student progress, success, and accomplishment
Here’s a list of seven educational outcomes, which can be ascertained through sample testing.
Reading: The goal should be the ability to read an essay or book and understand it well enough to use the information in some practical way or to talk about it with another person. This won’t happen unless students are reading on a regular basis, using books and other texts for pleasure and information, and continuously developing their grammatical complexity, vocabulary, and thinking ability. What’s the best way to measure all this? By analyzing random samples of students’ essays and stories.
Inquiry: Young children enter school with a natural disposition to inquire. However, one of the great ironies of our educational system is that it seems to squelch the impulse most essential to learning new things and to pursuing scientific discovery and invention. Maintaining childish inquisitiveness and curiosity should be a major goal of schools, and the best way to keep track of progress is keeping track of the number and quality of questions a child asks in a given period of time – Can they be answered with data? How does the child go about getting answers? And how persistent is the child when answers are hard to find?
Flexible thinking and use of evidence: College students are assessed on their ability to think about a situation in several different ways. Why not get this information on K-12 students and use it to fine-tune the curriculum? Kids might be asked to respond to a prompt like this: “Choose something you are good at and describe to your reader how you do it” or “Write a description of yourself from a friend’s (or enemy’s) point of view.”
Conversation: Teachers are given scant training in how to encourage, expand, and deepen children’s conversations. How can conversational skills be assessed? By listening in on children’s chats, it’s possible to code:
- The length of exchanges and turns taken;
- How many of these turns are in response to what was just said;
- How attuned each speaker is to what the other person is saying and thinking;
- Number of agreements and disagreements.
- Variety and depth of topics;
- Points of view articulated;
- Amount of information exchanged.
If teachers knew that their students’ conversations were valuable and that they and their
students were being measured by their conversations, they might get more help learning how to scaffold or enrich children’s talk.
Collaboration: One of the most robust findings in developmental psychology is that kids learn how to treat one another by watching the way adults treat them and treat each other. The habits of kindness and teamwork need time, effort, and attention to develop. Teachers need to be more attentive to this hidden curriculum and measure the levels of helpfulness and mutual support within the student body and faculty. For example, some popular students lord it over their cafeteria tables while socially isolated students don’t know where they can sit.
Engagement: The educational philosopher Harry Brighouse believes that one of the most powerful cognitive skills children can acquire is the ability to remain focused on something for 20 minutes at a time. Schools should look for this ability and work to get all students to at least that level of engagement. This means frequently observing everyday classroom activities and seeing if teachers are providing opportunities for students to become fully absorbed in and energized by specific activities.
Well-being: One way to measure if the six preceding elements are in place is asking students questions like these:
- How often do you enjoy being in school?
- What are you working on? Does it interest you? Do you care about it?
- Do the adults in this school know you?