What Does Success Look Like?

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?


6 thoughts on “What Does Success Look Like?

  1. Ryan, thanks for sharing those videos! This is a great topic that I believe so many people are discovering. Assessment can be hard, but it is necessary. I believe the true reason of assessment is to provide feedback to students about their successes and areas that they can grow in. I completely agree with your statement that high grades sometimes mean students “figured out the system”. Sometimes its easy to follow what a teacher expects and earn the grade, without opportunity for real understanding. I believe that finding ways for showing students their successes will be an ongoing and lifelong process. In my internship, I conferred with students quite often about their learning progress, giving them two stars ( things they were doing well at) and one wish (an area they could improve in).

    • Thanks for your reply Kerrie. I enjoy hearing what other teachers have done to show their students’ success as I am constantly trying to reevaluate my assessment practices. I like that you allowed your students to take control of learning progress. I think a hands on process is much more authentic and allows students to see the value in their learning. I used a similar process as this for parent conferences, but at the middle years level it seemed a little “elementary” for them.

  2. You’ve written a really thought provoking post, Ryan. Assessment is something that I continue to struggle with. During my internship in a grade one classroom, I shared the same internal self doubt that you did. Was my assessment meaningful? Was I allowing students the opportunity to show me that they could go “above and beyond?” I found assessment especially challenging in a young age group because they often were not able to show me their learning through writing. Unfortunately, the obsession with assessment and marks does not stop after high school! As interesting as our university classes are, I find myself only thinking of my marks. Instead of focusing during lectures and reflecting on what I am learning, I focus on what I need to get done for that class in order to keep a high average. Have you felt similarly? What could be done to change this way of thinking?

    • You highlight a great point here Ashton. I can relate to this feelings of only focusing on achieving a high mark. It seems like it has become a systematic part of our schools. I wonder what message we are sending to students when we put so much emphasis on the mark they receive? Is there benefits of doing this or is it obstructing the learning? I am not exactly sure what can be done to change this way of thinking, but I think part of the problem stems from generational norms. For example, parents put a lot of emphasis on their children’s marks because they grew up in a school generation that placed just as much or more emphasis on marks. I enjoy discussing all of the layers of assessment and success.

  3. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this & these awesome videos. The first one stands out to me and is SO powerful to both teachers and students- it could be a good way to start the year?? I also am appreciative that you took the time to write this post and like you said, discuss this with other professionals. Assessment isn’t something that is just going to ‘go away’, so we need to talk about it. One thing that I agree with is the idea of the ‘achievement mountain’. I’ve never heard it that way before, but it is something that I always am conscious of, and is part of my own teaching philosophy. I think in anything, with any child (any age too) we don’t need to celebrate the end results of everything. Think of a baby learning to walk- we don’t just praise them when they actually start running around, we praise them every (literal) step of the way to get there. So why should it be any different when kids are in schooling? I think that a huge part of student success and self confidence is the influence of positive encouragement that comes from their teacher. In all reality, it could be the only positive encouragement that the child ever gets.Thanks for sharing this Ryan! It is good to be reflective on this, even if we’re not in the classroom right now.

    • Thanks for your ideas Kayla. I had the same thoughts about using this video at the start of the school year. I think it sets a platform for a meaningful conversation with the students in the classroom about expectations. I also really appreciate the analogy you use. What a great way of thinking about student achievement and success. We need to celebrate every “step”. I think a lot of teachers would benefit from the analogy you used here!

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