Friday, January 29, 2010

Part ll: When Goals and Practices Collide

In Part I of "When Goals and Practices Collide" I shared a scenario at my school. We have a quarterly benchmark assembly where kids receive medallions for scoring "advanced" or "proficient" on district benchmark tests in math and English Language Arts.  Then student names and class pictures with only the "competent students" and their teachers are posted on a cafeteria wall.
Here are some of my questions as I struggle to see how this practice will help my school reduce the achievement gap.

So how do our practices support this goal?

Data chats: Yes, I agree that students should be aware of their scores, set goals together and brainstorm the paths to achieving those goals. Teachers meet with students after every benchmark to discuss the results.

My question: Have teachers been trained how to engage kids in a discussion that motivates them and doesn’t give them the idea that they will never “catch up?”  Wouldn’t it be better to meet with kids, discover how they learn, brainstorm times they have been successful in learning something new, and train them how to generalize this way of learning to other subjects? Then they can find strategies to help them learn and set “meaningful” and attainable goals for themselves!  Isn’t it about the kids becoming engaged and responsible for their learning? I think we need to help kids learn the reflective skill of meta-cognition. I am not sure all teachers at my school even know what that means.

Awards:  My principal alleges that giving awards motivates students because when they see their peers receiving an award, they will want one too and thus, will begin working hard.

My question: How does seeing your best friend  ( if you are even friends with such smart kids) get an award give you the tools, skills and mindset that will help you get there too? If I see a peer get an award, I might just think: Well he is smarter than I am. He always gets good grades. Those awards aren’t for me.  I am the kid sent to the office every day because I have checked out. Look at me! I know I won’t be proficient .. I am smart enough to know that my 55% score is beyond hope. My teacher tells me my score and sets a goal for me, but how do I know how to reach it. I think next time we have one of those assemblies, I will be “sick” that day. Better yet, I will be sick the next time we have a benchmark test. AND the day of the assembly.

Supposedly, according to the rhetoric I hear in staff meetings, we are also trying to raise the scores of kids at the top. Really? By giving medallions for making it to the status quo?
What if  we gave kids who made significant growth the opportunity to meaningfully engage with a kid who was struggling. What if we modeled and truly believed that each learner in a class had something to contribute? What if we gave that student who is “below basic” an opportunity to share a skill and talent that he possesses?
 Perhaps then we might be on our way to provide the environment where true learning occurs.

Safe environment for learning and taking risks
:  If we want kids to challenge themselves and grow, rewarding them for doing well on a test gives them great reason to play it safe and not really venture out in learning. If they have been "on track" since the lower grades, they usually keep their advanced or proficient status. Do they even know how to challenge themselves when the test is "easy" for them. Do we want to give them the message that they have arrived?  They want to keep their reputations as the “advanced” kids , so why even try to learn anything? It's much safer to be the big fish in the little pond.

If you have made it this far and can relate to any of this, please leave a comment below! In my next post, I will tell you what happened when I spoke up about this practice at my school. Stay tuned!


  1. I'm a high school science teacher and totally understand your point. I think as a teacher it's important to stress that are you giving your best. If the student is, then we can't ask for more!! A kindergarten teacher I know stresses to his kids about getting a little better each day. he does this while holding up 2 fingers and a small gap between them. He then adds that if you get a little better each day, what happens when you add up all those little bits. You get big improvements. He uses these analogies as our varsity football head coach. It's so simple that even older kids can reflect on it.

    Another teacher I know teaches weightlifting with a performance grade. It doesn't go into their report card, but it's a grade that reflects on the students work ethic and effort. The kids were more concerned about how he viewed their performance than their real grades. Maybe beside the proficient and advanced columns in the halls.. Maybe in your class their is a chart states "Little by Little". It could be a list of students that you think get better each day. Maybe it's a weekly thing.. a daily thing... I'm not sure, but its definitely an opportunity for a child that isn't the smartest to definitely show they care about their work!! But just make sure you don't reward them for doing the requirement. You reward them for pushing past the requirement!! That's how we get better, to push ourselves. Just a thought.. I hope it helps!!!

  2. Thanks so much for your thoughts! My classroom practices completely align with your's just the school-wide practices that are getting to me because I feel like they defeat my attempts to build confidence and efficacy.
    I so appreciate your input. Thank you.

  3. School practices only change when one of three things happen: there is a change in school leadership; parents persistently demand it; or when a significant number of top-notch teachers persistently demand it.

    Th important thing is to try to start the discussion about the issues you raise in your school. If you're not in a position to do it directly, plant the seed with the parents of some of those children you care so deeply about. Point out the inequities their children are suffering and tell them there are avenues to raise those concerns with the principal.

    Subversive activity can be very empowering.

  4. Thank you Deven. I am hoping that new leadership will impact these practices. We have a new superintendent beginning Feb. 1st and I am hoping that his commitment to reducing the achievement gap includes looking carefully at our practices.
    As far as parents go, I think you are right that they need some encouragement to speak up for their kids. Part of the problem is that some might not even know about the whole issue as some kids are unlikely to go home and share that they did not receive a medal.
    Thanks for your input and support.