Here we are six weeks into the school year, halfway through a grading period. Parents are eager to learn about their child’s progress, and interims are due. It appears to be a well-timed match, but as I sat down with my team, we realized reporting student progress wasn’t going to be as easy as checking a box, “Performing as expected” or Needs improvement”.
Much of our work, as we believe it should be, has revolved around establishing a learning community. Each part of our day hinges on getting to know our classmates, building relationships with our peers, working collaboratively, learning routines, fostering mindsets for learning, and celebrating our community and our time together.
As learners ourselves, we know students need a supportive culture where taking risks, asking questions, and understanding the value of the process is omnipresent. Students will be invited to push themselves into new situations that require some level of discomfort. Working outside, or beyond, your comfort level takes knowing your friends won’t laugh, but rather they will see the strength of your learning and encourage you to push through the struggle.
Nurturing a learner takes a careful hand, explicit language, a well-designed community, and an intentional teacher, with a vision of who this student can be. Life-long learners don’t happen by accident.
How do you explain to a parent:
- something as simple as building a community block tower can change the mindset of a learner?
- building a community block tower teaches the child to take risks and support others in life and in learning?
- the risks the child took and the support they felt from their peers while building the block tower creates a level of trust in the community?
- confidence will allow the child to take risks, build on the learning of their peers, and believe in themselves?
- children can’t learn without first developing a community?
When we started to discuss the writing section of our interim, I felt particularly uncomfortable in our tool. How will sentences and check boxes accurately portray what the students have experienced, all they’ve built, and how it all relates to writing?
Will parents see, will they accept:
- conventions matter, they’re important, but they’re not the only definition or representation of a writer?
- a voice in writing is important; a voice is what makes the writing unique to the writer and communicates their message accurately?
- writers need an audience to push their work, to grow ideas, and to support them when they try new things?
- messy writing doesn’t mean it’s bad writing?
- the value of the work lies in the process?
- to easily see the growth in a writer you need the vision of a writer?
These points may be difficult for the families who see the classroom from outside the door. But, to those of us who live and breathe inside the classroom, we understand the connection of blocks and conventions. We understand the connection of placing a block high on the tower as your friends take a deep breath. We understand the risks involved in spelling a word we can’t even read yet. We know the feeling of relief as the tower grows taller by your hand and the feeling of learning a new writing craft when we push ourselves to grow and take risks.
Families may never truly understand all that happens in a classroom, at least not the way I do. But, I do know my intentions and this I can clearly and passionately communicate to families.