Have you ever asked a teacher how they feel about assessment? If you have, I am sure this question has been met with frustration, hesitation, or possibly even confusion. I would be shocked if the reply to this question was that they love assessment. Whether a teacher has been in the profession for one year or thirty years, assessment never seems to get any easier. As time-consuming as assessment can be, the problem really seems to be how damaging labeling a student can be. Besides, what does assessment truly tell us about a student? Is it measuring their growth? Is it reflecting their socio-economic background? How can a teacher authentically assess each and every student? Assessment is something I have always struggled to understand and I am beginning to think that it will be something I struggle to understand throughout my entire profession.
The reason I chose to write about assessment and its connection to success this week is because it is something I appreciate talking about with others in the profession. During internship I would get so tied up with the idea of assessment. Am I being too hard on the students? Is teacher bias playing a role in my assessments? Are my assessments meaningful and authentic? What are my goals with this assessment? These were all questions that would constantly be on my mind. Then I remembered a video that was surfacing the Internet at the beginning of my internship.
This video was just what I needed to hear as I was embarking on what seemed to be the most valuable semester of my university degree. At the end of the day, a grade on a piece of paper is nothing compared to the relationships that I was able to build with my students. Students need their teacher to believe in them, to not allow them to give up, and to be there for them every single day. What is truly more important? That students are able to memorize and regurgitate facts or that students learn to overcome adversity, build good work ethic, establish values, and become a respected member of society? If we are only teaching students that success is a grade on an assignment are we really reaching all of our students?
I often find myself having similar discussions with one of my good friends and colleagues, Mr. Mike Schienbien. I remember reading his blog post, The Student Achievement Mountain: Do we celebrate the peak or the steps that get us there? this past summer. Something that Mike writes about in his post is the fact that success is going to look different for everyone, but “success=success, regardless of how it may look. All success deserves to be celebrated.” Something that Mike demonstrates well is the power of building relationships with students and how it can result in a healthy learning environment.
It got me thinking about this Ted Talk by Rita Pierson, Every Kid Needs a Champion. This may be one of my favourite educational Ted Talks. No matter how many times I watch it, I get fired up. I love how passionate she is about helping students recognize their strengths and successes. When talking about handing back a math test to a student who received an “F” and putting a happy face at the top of the page, she explains “minus eighteen sucks all the life out of you. Plus two says I ain’t all bad!” Something as simple as thinking changing the way you think can make all the difference.
So, what is the real purpose of assessment? In a Maclean’s article back in 2007, they published an article titled, Do Grades Really Matter? The basis of this article is talking about the connection between grades in schools and success later in life. More specifically that high grades don’t automatically count for successes in life. Sometimes a high grade only means that a student has “figured out the system.” How do we change the system so all students feel the success? So, in conclusion what should our main concern be as teachers? Should we be concerned with making sure every student makes the honour role? Sure, it would be nice, but that shouldn’t be the definition of success. We have to be able to form genuine and caring human relationships in order to build success so that students can see their own potential not only in the classroom, but also in life. As Rita says, “kids don’t learn from people they don’t like.”
How are you going to make sure your students can see their success?