October 12, 2014

First Impressions

First impressions mean a lot. When you are first getting to know someone you do all you can to give off a great impression. You are all smiles, you are dressed smart (to steal a great term from my British friends), you use your best vocabulary and even try to give a firm handshake, all in the hopes of making that positive first impression.  We want people to connect to us and say, "Wow, this person seems great! If nothing else, I want to get to know them even more."

But, what is the first impression schools often give to students?  We often welcome them to school, by taking the first day to go through all of the behavior expectations we have.  While I support PBIS and think it is a good thing, this is simply code for teaching kids the rules.  I like that we now try to do it in a positive way and we focus on teaching the expectations, not just telling them the expectations. I'm just not sure it is the "welcome" to school we should use to be starting the year.

Sometimes, often as soon as the second day of school or at least by the second week of school, we begin by assessing students. We are trying to benchmark them to determine their academic skills at the start of the year so we can determine where each student is academically and then we can determine what each child needs for intervention and support.  This is code for, Testing.  We hit kids with numerous tests to determine fluency, comprehension, writing, computation, numeracy and problem solving skills. 

Some of these assessments are given twice because we are mandated to give some tests, but sometimes schools prefer a different test that has a higher bar of expectation, or looks at the same skills slightly differently, or produces a clearer set of data. Some of these assessments are computerized and some are given by a teacher in a one to one environment. Some are based on speed and some can take up to an hour to complete.

This is all pretty normal probably for most of the schools across America. Although it may not be so normal to those 5-10 year old kids. I know there are some schools that have broken this mold, and I am not here to say who does it great or right, but instead to have us reflect on what is common practice, and see if we can empathize with students and to see if we can create a start to the year that would help kids get excited and feel the joy of starting a new year instead of creating anxiety of tests and assessments.

I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas for how to address this concern.  Hold off on benchmarking until October?  Make the first day all about welcoming students, meeting teachers, meeting friends, having a special lunch?  Hold an assembly where students hear about all the special events coming up this year, a video of highlights from the previous year?  Please share your ideas and help me recreate the start of the school year I would like to see students have.

1 comment:

  1. Tom,

    What a great topic. You're absolutely correct. If I was a student the "game" of school would suck enjoyment out of me. We test too much and we don't personalize students learning track.

    I'm with you, we need to rethink they way school is conducted. We need to develop an environment where students experience joyful learning and love to learn. Basically our schools are about the process and the journey...not just results.

    Great topic...we could discuss this all day!