Picture this: A principal at the beginning of the school year tells all his teachers:
“This year, we will have no end-of-grade test. We will have no letters or numbers on our report cards. There will be no homework just for the sake of assigning homework. Instead of assessing what each student knows, you will be assessing who each student IS.
You can use paper tests, portfolios, projects, rubrics, informal checklists, whatever method you want in order to evaluate, discover, analyze, make a judgement as to who each student is and to help you hypothesize what future path of study and/or what future career you could see them in. Any homework assigned will be child-specific and based on who you see that child becoming. It will be optional. Students can be enlisted to help you in your assessment. Throughout the year, they will be able to record on slips of paper what they notice about their classmates; who they see them becoming, and add it to a special jar.
You will compile a report on each student to present to him and his parents at the end of the year.”
I imagine there would be a mixed bag of responses in that room full of teachers. Some might be elated to give up meaningless test-prep, hours of grading and admin with regards to report cards, homework, etc. and exchange it all for the chance to tap into the gifts and talents represented in that classroom; to pour themselves equally into each student, not just the ones that are on the “fence” between a passing and failing test score.
Other teachers might grumble at the fact that now there is no “formula” for success. No way to rank and compartmentalize their students. No clear cut numbers or letters to send home quarterly to parents. Now they would actually have to get to “know” their students instead of just assigning them work and preparing for a test. They would have to think critically about each student. Even the ones they don’t like. Even the ones that are slower learners. Even the ones that are bored to tears because their unique minds are not being fed. They would need to dig deep to find the gifts and passions in those children. That’s just too much for some teachers. It’s not efficient, it’s messy, it’s random. I think it would be too much for some because there might be an underlying belief that not every child is meant to be successful.
The principal continues:
“At the end of the year, before school let’s out for the summer, you will spend the last week sharing in front of the class the report that had been compiled on each student. Other students will also get to contribute their input aloud about what they have been noticing about their classmates.
And here’s the best part: It doesn’t end at the end of this year. Next year, those report cards will be given to the students’ new teachers who will be able to catch an early glimpse into the character, personalities, talents, and passions of her incoming students. Half the year will not be wasted trying to figure out what makes Johnny tick.”
Can you imagine the power of 12 years of these hypothetically compiled end-of-year assessments? Students would have heard for 12 years from both their teachers and their peers that they are worthy of some great contribution to the world. Can you imagine the confidence those children would graduate with or the pride they would have in knowing that they indeed have very specific and unique talents that will amount to something big one day? How about at their 20-year reunion? “I knew it! An interior designer! A civil engineer! A sports commentator!” And on, and on. “I saw it in you when you were 16 years old and here you are! Way to go!!”
Is it possible to have such assessments in school? It depends. There are micro-schools around the world that come pretty close:
But the easiest place to implement such an assessment is in the home.
Every Christmas instead of gifts under the tree, we read a letter to each of our 5 children. They sit in a special chair and get to listen as their mommy and daddy read off what is essentially an assessment of what we have seen in that child over the past year. After their letters are read, their siblings get to also contribute by thanking God for their brother or sister in specific ways. And if grandparents are present, they know to bring their letter too. So far, our kids have had 6 years of these letters that have affirmed who we see God making them to be. They absolutely LOVE it. They glow as they sit there in the chair listening to what we have learned and noticed about them over the last year. I’m not gonna lie. It’s a pretty emotionally vulnerable time, so not for the faint of heart! But can’t you almost hear your own children at the end of such a year? So, mom, how did I do this year? What do you see in me? How am I growing? What potential do I have? Give me a clue as to the purpose for which I was created!
Because here’s the deal:
“We can’t be anything we want to be. We come into this world with a specific personal destiny. We have a job to do, a calling to enact, a self to become. We are who we are from the cradle, and we’re stuck with it. Our job in this lifetime is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it. If we were born to paint it’s our job to become a painter. If we were born to raise and nurture children it’s our job to become a mother. If we were born to overthrow the order of ignorance and injustice of the world, it’s our job to realize it and get down to business.” -Steven Pressfield, War of Art
So what are we looking for exactly in our children?
- Anything unique about the way they think, act, speak, or just are in their personality
- Subjects/activities in which they thrive and gravitate towards
- Subjects/activities that they hate and try to avoid
- What they see as their gifts/passions
- Future fields of study they could see themselves exploring
- What the bulk of their questions are about.
- What they want to show you- “Look what I did Mommy!”
- What they want to tell you- “Listen to this mommy!”
Go to any university website or job search engine and browse the academic catalog or job posts. What majors, courses, or jobs could you see your child really loving? This gives us a much broader perspective than our child simply being “good” at math or reading. And keep asking them really good questions (see this post)! Jot down your notes throughout the year in a special journal or Evernote notebook.
Remember, the one thing that does NOT belong on this assessment is intelligence, or how “smart” your child is. You must dig deeper. Would a teacher necessarily “see” that my 10-year-old daughter loves face painting, crafting, speaking in public, and would plow through a crowd in order to serve someone in need? Probably not. That’s the kind of stuff we are after.
If possible, don’t limit this “assessment” to only once a year, and recruit others who know your child to participate as well. The more you affirm who you see your child is and who you see her becoming, the less anxious you both will be about all the other assessments in her life, because you will both realize that none of them really matter. Instead, your child will continue to love learning for the sake of learning, not for the sake of earning a certain grade, score, or GPA. And it is that love and drive for learning that will most benefit her as an adult.
Let’s not be short-sighted educators, but keep a long-term perspective on the men and women that our children will become in the blink of an eye.