It’s that time of the year…
No, I’m not talking college basketball, brackets, and the sweet sixteen.
It’s report card time, and I can feel the March madness starting to seep in. That insidious doubt that narrows my vision and makes me doubt what I know to be true.
If I weren’t writing report cards right now and you asked me to describe student learning in my classroom in one word, I would say blossoming.
Our students are blossoming. They are reading and writing eagerly. There’s a sense of confidence and fluency among this group of 6, 7, 8, and 9 year olds that defies grade level benchmarks. Last week when students learned about how reasoning could make their evidence more compelling in a piece they were writing about this special place where they live, they were undaunted and dug in to add reasoning to their evidence, carefully explaining just why the beach makes this place special and why having a family owned donut shop matters to them. A line like this one makes my heart sing… A second grader describing an iconic statue in our community that makes the community a special place to live wrote: We also have a Cardiff Kook that loves to get dressed up. I think everyday is Halloween for him. And I want to shout from the rooftops when I read an ending like this one a third grader used to close the essay: So where were we again in the beginning? Oh yes, the beach. Now the sunset kisses the dusk with oranges, yellows, reds, pinks, purples, and blues too beautiful to explain, and as you see the last foamy white whale spout on the horizon, there’s no doubt Encinitas is a very special place.
Of course they weren’t written on demand in an decontextualized setting. They are the result of rich discussion and leveraging of background knowledge, a writing community where revision is ongoing and expected, instruction that encouraged students to go back and add reasoning to their claims and evidence, and a space filled with mentor texts that highlight and celebrate beautiful language. These complex sentences mean that the punctuation isn’t perfect…and the vocabulary students use push them to depend on phonics to express the words they don’t yet know how to spell, but honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
But I know the first thing people see when they look at student writing is the mechanics…and that sometimes it can stop them from even noticing the beauty of the language and composition.
And then there’s math. All year we have worked to develop a strong sense of number and the ability to solve real life (or as close as you can get in a classroom) mathematical problems. So why did we hand our students traditional equations to solve? March madness is my best excuse. Luckily I took the time to look closely and notice that every one of our third graders competently solved a problem that featured Alexander Calder and his wire circus–and required both multiplication and division to solve. And the majority of them solved three different versions of the problem that varied the level of difficulty! (Thank goodness we decided to add that problem to our assessment to represent the kind of problem solving we have worked on all year!)
And most people don’t even ask about students’ programming skills, design abilities, persistence and resilience, empathy…or even their dispositions as budding scientists. (You can read a bit about that here and here)
So, as I write report cards I’m trying to remind myself to breathe…and focus on the blossoming, pushing against the March madness. Are all our students right where we want them to be? No. Is there still room for growth? Of course! Can I improve my instruction to better support student learning? Yes–and I’m working on that every day.
But, our students are blossoming. And I want to make sure that the way I communicate progress helps their families and other educators see all that they can do, all the ways they have grown as learners…and help our students recognize that growth can be measured and documented in lots of ways. And also know where they need to continue to work and grow…because learning continues for a lifetime.
I understand the importance of accountability and communication in our educational system. I want to make sure that students are making progress and not slipping through the cracks. But I also want to honor hard-earned growth and pay attention to the attitudes and processes that aren’t measured by standardized tests or traditionally reported on through report cards and assessments.
I’ll keep pushing against the March madness…and once the report cards are done, maybe I’ll watch a bit of basketball…