Another Dimension for Quarterly Assessment

At my school, the marking period ends this Thursday.  I usually require students to write a reflection of their learning experiences so they can assess their growth.  Part of this includes a review of how their skills and capacities have expanded, but another consideration altogether can make all the difference.

I have an old wooden desk set off to the right of my main desk.  I keep a chair on the opposite side of it.  We call this arrangement the conference desk.  I have lots of meetings with individual students.  Often, they actively consult me for advice on their writing assignments.  Sometimes, though, I must require students to meet with me.

But almost always, our discussions include mindset.

Using words such as transactional and perfunctory, or energizing and fulfilling, we discuss what kind of attitude students have about the learning experiences they engage in.  Eighth graders can be remarkably forthcoming in relating their feelings about topics and activities.

Perhaps this does little in the short term to help students see relevance or purpose in the academic matters we take up.  The vocabulary of our discussions, however, establishes a critical framework.  With reinforcement from all teachers over several years, this can have a truly transformative effect.

I often ask students whether they would describe themselves as reluctant, compliant, or enthusiastic learners.  In whole-class discussions, we note the obvious disadvantages of being a reluctant learner–particularly the irony of some students complaining that their education is irrelevant while they willfully make school the very waste of time they claim it to be.

We also recognize the meager benefit that comes from spending time and energy in complying with assignments and requirements while making few meaningful associations with the concepts connected with their efforts.

Then we find a paradox in a comparison between highly-compliant students–many of whose names appear on the high honor roll–and enthusiastic learners.

As it turns out, the highly-compliant learners work hard and earn high grades, but they learn relatively little.  Enthusiastic learners, on the other hand, do not feel as if they are working hard, yet they learn significantly more than highly-compliant learners.  Furthermore, they internalize their learning and make strong connections between their learning experiences.

Not many students have innate enthusiasm.  Often, it requires an exceptional teacher to foster it.  But merely thinking in these terms enables a student to consider advantages and liabilities.  In my classroom, we talk about taking an interest if one does not naturally have one.  We consider the possibility that in closing off one’s mind to the relevance of class topics, one inevitably becomes blind to it.  If a student looks for such relevance, however, finding it becomes much more likely.

Perhaps we have two possible additional dimensions for assessment here: first, the students’ assessment of their own learning; and second, a separate category on their report cards, perhaps with a rating jointly determined by students and their teachers, indicating that a student is a reluctant, compliant, or enthusiastic learner.

Such a qualitative rating would have no bearing on grade point averages, but it would inform a process of self-reflection that could vastly empower students to take proprietorship of their learning experiences.

Merely an idea.

Photo: Tima Miroshnichenko of Pexels

I am participating in the Two Writing Teachers March 2023 Slice of Life Challenge.

12 thoughts on “Another Dimension for Quarterly Assessment

  1. I teach at an international baccalaureate school and the elementary version is called the primary years program. Throughout the IB there is some consistent language and a big part is the “approaches to learning”. It sounds like that would be right up your alley! Our narrative reports for the students are structured around the AtLs.

    1. Thanks, Erika, for that information! I have reviewed the IB because I was considering teaching overseas, and I noted a sensibility and integration that I have never seen in a public school curriculum. Yes, I relate to its framework. You must have a wonderful career.

  2. I really like this idea! I think I’m going to borrow it for my end of quarter reflection assignment that’s coming up–it will be something a little different than we’ve done before for our reflections.

  3. Oooooh, I love the way you use the vocabulary in the conferencing on mindset with your students. They will remember it because it is habitually embedded in their language. Have you read a book called Deeper Learning? Our system uses this and has experienced a paradigm shift as a result. Mindset is 99% of the game – – once that’s established, the possibilities are limitless. Thanks so much for this reminder today of the power of conferencing.

    1. Yes–I have heard of that book but have not read it. You must work in an interesting district. It is difficult to have all of the necessary people adopt a strategy meaningfully and reinforce it uniformly. It is encouraging to learn of this.

  4. “Such a qualitative rating would have no bearing on grade point averages, but it would inform a process of self-reflection that could vastly empower students to take proprietorship of their learning experiences.” And there it is folks. The truth is, much of the valuable work students do in school does not directly change their grade point averages. Yet the GPA is often the only thing that anyone counts. Hmmm, time to reassess! Beautifully written, Paul. We need to start a movement!

    1. Thanks, Suzanne–let’s mobilize the troops…just as I begin thinking about whether it is time to retire. And you! I hope you are enjoying life after teaching. Still, I suspect you and I will always feel invested.

  5. An interesting and somewhat insightful approach to self-evaluation. I say this from the perspective of (looking back of my experience in school) having been a 12-yr old high school freshman. I find myself reflecting and deciding that I would have self-described as either reluctantly enthusiastic or enthusiastically reluctant.

    Unfortunately, and I say this from combining my experiences with those of my sons, it seems that, overall, the education system is poorly able to deal with (and satisfy the voracious learning needs of) gifted and talented students. Even recently, the best approach seems to be to have a class or two labeled “GATE” and hope that is sufficient to satisfy them – rather than actually attending to them and address the soul-deep *need* to be challenged, not with just additional work of the type that has already been mastered, but with leaping ahead to learn more. [Apologies for the run-on sentence. It got away from me before I could tame it.]

    Heck, by that measure, it is even almost impossible (based, granted, on my own limited view) to convince the “system” that a gifted / talented student even *IS* one, no matter the external documentary evidence that is presented. After all, it wasn’t *their* test he scored highly on, and he’s getting middle grades at best even now. [“Yes, you fool! Because he’s *BORED*! What part of that are you not comprehending!!!”]

  6. What stands out most to me is this: “they willfully make school the very waste of time they claim it to be.” I don’t know how to change this reality for middle school students. I see it in some students as I sub in my district, but I don’t recall it being as severe a problem during my teaching years; maybe that’s because I taught more advanced courses the last decade, for the most part. I do think taking charge of one’s learning is vital, and like you, I spent a lot of time conferencing w/ students and helping them find a way to become curious learners and responsible ones. Teaching speech allows students more latitude in exploring topics of interest to them. In my dual credit speech courses ten percent of the grade was a self-assessment, and in general speech courses I used a grading method designed to emphasize completing tasks and improving rather than measuring one student’s outcomes against another student’s.

    1. That growth-oriented grading scale is precisely what I would prefer. Isn’t that what squarely addresses what we hope for? Growth? This applies to all students–low or high achievers, reluctant or enthusiastic. Regrettably, many districts have scoring rubric parameters that require an evaluation only in terms of mastering skills and content. Growth data do, however, apply to teacher ratings, but I regret that some of the data are based on tests of dubious value. I see a lot of potential for this to evolve, but I suspect I will be retired before we get it right.

      Yes, I see the same lack of interest, and I agree it is worse in recent years, possibly due in part to the pandemic. In grade 8, I would certainly have been susceptible.

      Thank you for reading my post and for your thoughtful remarks.

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