What conditions and characteristics of school do we simply assume are engrained parts of the system? You know, those things about school that we take for granted are just baked into the structure of school.
During the 2016-17 academic year (there is one of those assumptions, right?), I plan to post a series of blog entries about these assumptions along with a few ideas and questions about how we might challenge them.
Why am I interested in thinking about and sharing these assumptions? Well, when our school year started at Mount Vernon, our Head of School Brett Jacobsen shared some powerful messages about being Mavericks – those people and organizations that step up, stand out, and face their giants. When talking to the faculty at the opening-of-school gathering, he named three things that Mavericks must do:
- Mavericks must vary their routes.
- Mavericks challenge assumptions.
- Mavericks live fully.
So, I’ve been thinking even more than usual about what assumptions we might challenge about the structure of school as it has been designed by so many educational organizations in the last century.
Additionally, I am currently reading Inevitable: Mass Customized Learning by Charles Schwahn and Bea McGarvey. Recently, I spoke to Bea, and she and I discussed a few of the items she highlights in Chapter 8: “Weight Bearing Walls.” These weight bearing walls are the elements that supported an industrial model of schooling. They are also known as the assumptions we take for granted about the structure of school. In the conversation, Bea expressed that school design of the future must develop new weight bearing walls.
Here is the list of weight bearing walls in Chapter 8 of Inevitable: Mass Customized Learning…
- Grade Levels
- Students Assigned to Classrooms
- Class Period / Bell Schedule
- Courses / Curriculum
- Paper and Pencil
- ABC Grading Systems
- Report Cards
- Learning Happens in Schools
- Nine-Month School Year
So, what about grade reporting and grade-reporting calendars? Typically, summaries of grades come out every quarter of the school year (for the many schools on the quarter system). In many cases, teachers are expected to add narrative comments to those grade summaries, and the grade-comment combos are sent home to parents via email or snail mail.
For my mother, when I was in school as a child, this schedule probably made more sense. There was no email, no online grade books, no Twitter, and no online dashboarding that she could use to “keep up” with what I was doing in school and how I was performing relative to the standards set. Given that students and parents today are much more technologically capable and empowered to monitor progress in real time, why do we keep to the quarter summary of grading? (And I am not yet even challenging the assumptions of the grading system itself – that will come in a later post.)
What if student learners had a more regular practice of reflecting on their learning and progress, and what if they sat more in the driver’s seat of reporting on their learning? Perhaps with a tool like “7 Questions to End Your Week,” student learners could send their own email or online-based progress reports, and teacher-mentors could comment on the student learner reflections. And perhaps on a monthly basis student learners could reflect and report on their overall learning and progress relative to some power standards and habits of mind. Sure, it would take developing such systems for reflection, and a school would have to commit to building those muscles in learners. But such a newly designed system could definitely provide a more modern and effective load bearing wall for the future of school.
What do you imagine to be more effective timelines and systems for reporting on learning?
Authored by Bo Adams, Executive Director of MVIFI. This post also appeared on It’s About Learning, September 16, 2016.