Teach Wisely, Teach Well

The Current Landscape

These are challenging times in the current landscape of learning and teaching. The standards movement is pressing upon us and students and teachers are being measured in the narrowest of ways. I know that any and every measurement can tell me something about a child and I fear that focusing on any single measurement can be dangerous. The biggest mistake we can make is to be single-minded. Relying on a standardized score or focusing on only the standards that we are required to teach will not allow us the opportunity to create a variety of rich, interactive, collaborative and thoughtful experiences that enrich learning and teaching.

In the worst situations, it's not the data that is problematic, but how the data is interpreted, generalized, and misused to make educational decisions. All measurements can be helpful in creating a clear and precise profile of a learner. I tend to lean toward more authentic measurements and what they tell me about students. However, every piece of data is a piece of the mosaic of a child's learning life. What targets for learning and measurement results can do is clarify the most effective instruction and help us be responsive to each student's needs. Some knowledge and skills are easily measured. Some are not. When it comes right down to it, a good teacher knows her students well and teaches in response to what she knows abou t the individual child.

I worry that we look at standards and data the way we narrow a Google map search. We can narrow in on the smallest of detail but knowing the big picture is also important. We can consider standards, measurement and data and completely lose sight of the bigger picture. Each educational measure we put in place is part of the whole and we must not forget that. What does a standard or test score tell us about a student's persistence or level of self-efficacy? How can we support students by giving them the skills they need for more critical thinking, inquiry and thoughtful pursuits?

What Next?

Whether or not we agree with standards and accountability, it is an immense part of the learning landscape. So we need to help others understand the role of standards and accountability in the big picture.

The most important question we can ask when we are presented with any kind of measurement of progress is to ask "What next?" How will we formulate learning experiences that will move each child forward? What will we focus on? What are the strengths of the child and how can we teach from those strengths instead of focusing on the deficits?

It's not helpful to consider data and assign causation for low and even high performance that is generalized and misaligned. Some educators are "guessing" why students perform the way they do and linking to practices that may not have a positive impact on student learning. In some cases, programs and practices are being implemented that detour us from focusing on 21st century skills.

Let's Remember

  • Stay the course and make decisions based on what's right for children.
  • Embrace 21st century learning.
  • Use measurement results to teach from a child's strengths.
  • While it's the most challenging time in education, it is also the most exciting. We are increasing the potential for our students to be active and participatory learners. We are encouraging them to build a learning community both locally and globally that will help them follow their passions. We cannot abandon our efforts to give our students what they will need to help them be successful in learning and life.

    Karen Szymusiak is principal of Glacier Ridge Elementary in Dublin, Ohio. She can be found online at twitter.com/karenszymusiak. Karen has coauthored Beyond Leveled Books, Still Learning to Read, and Day to Day Assessment in the Reading Workshop. Her favorite moments are those spent with children. She says, "If we really listen to children, they tell us all there is to know about teaching wisely and well."

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