A New Model of American Education

Today the students were out of school, but the teachers were busy learning how to be better teachers (supposedly) in a full day of professional development.  This is nearly always an incredibly dull experience, though it is occasionally infuriating just to mix things up.  Our district is in the process of implementing a new model of teaching called Assessment for Learning, and to be fair it is an interesting program. 

 Essentially, Assessment for Learning is about shifting the mindset away from giving assignments, quizzes, and tests for the purpose of assigning a grade and using them instead as a way to assess students’ level of mastery in whatever area is being evaluated.  The results are then used to guide further instruction, whether that be re-teaching unmastered concepts, reinforcing the material, or moving forward to additional goals.  This may seem like a common sense practice, but I assure you it is a monumental shift in how classrooms operate.  Consider your own educational experience.  How often were you assigned tasks that just seemed to be busy work?  How often did you take quizzes over assigned reading with questions so obscure that it was clear the only purpose was to make sure you actually did the assignment?  How often did you fail a test or assignment and then just move on to new material without addressing the reasons you failed?  This was probably the norm in most of your classes.  While many would argue that this model of teaching requires students to be responsible for their own learning and to work hard in order to get the grade (worthy lessons, without a doubt), the truth is that it leaves many capable students behind.  What is the purpose of school if not to educate our children?  And if those children are not learning the material, aren’t the schools failing in their mission?  Obviously, students have an important responsibility to do their best and complete their assigned work, but the work that is assigned should be focused on teaching or reinforcing actually important concepts.  Why waste time focusing on what happened on page 210, paragraph 3, line 6 in The Grapes of Wrath if what happens in that line isn’t mood, symbolism, metaphor, or main idea?  Education should be streamlined to the essentials in each area, and these essentials should be taught until they are mastered by the majority of students.

The program differentiates between academic and non-academic skills.  The academic skills are obvious: the content of the class.  The non-academic skills are the other areas that teachers teach in their classroom: behavior, social skills, participation, time management.  Often these are assessed at the same time.  For example, you are assigned some math problems to complete for homework.  The assignment is due the following period.  If you do not turn in the assignment on time, no matter how well you demonstrated mastery of the academics, the highest grade that you can receive is a 70% because you did not demonstrate the proper non-academic skill of adhering to a deadline.  This isn’t really a motivator for students to try their best.  And if you fail to turn in the assignment after the second day, you receive no credit, or a 0.  This means that your work will not be assessed for understanding or that you will not even complete the assignment at all and may not fully learn the material.  You may then do poorly on the quiz that follows, resulting in a poor grade on your report card and a failure to master the concept.  And the school failed in its purpose to teach you.

Obviously there must be a balance between the academic and non-academic.  In the “real world” everyone has deadlines they must meet, and if you never learn the importance of completing tasks in a timely manner, then you will be fired from countless jobs in adulthood.  But you will also be a failure if you cannot demonstrate mastery of essential academic skills.  So both must be addressed.

What do you think?  Where should the balance lie?  Do you see think that public schools have a responsibility to teach these non-academic skills?  Is it primarily the job of the parents to teach these skills?  What about the students that just slack off for no good reason?  Do schools have an obligation to do whatever it takes to reach these kids as well?

Let’s get a discussion going my friends!  Comment below!

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My Daughter’s Spelling Bee [Insert Catchy Slowgan Here]

Today Sissy competed in her school’s Kindergarten/First grade spelling bee.  This was the third and final level, preceded by a classroom competition which narrowed it down to 3 per class and an all-kindergarten competition which narrowed it down to 5 for the grade level.  Today she competed against the 4 other kindergartners and the top 5 first graders.

She did great!  She made it through 14 rounds, beating out 2 kindergartners and 2 first graders and taking 6th place!  By the time she was eliminated, they had reached the fourth grade word list.  Her downfall was the word “slogan,” which she spelled s-l-o-w-g-a-n.  As soon as she said the “w” a look of panic crossed her face, realizing she had just said the wrong letter but couldn’t take it back!  

We are so proud of her!  To celebrate, she got to pick a restaurant for her celebratory dinner, followed by ice cream for dessert and 2 rousing games of Candyland.  It was a very special night!