Sunday, December 6, 2015

Tale of Two Students

"Too often, we have neither allowed nor expected students to think.
We have filled their heads with facts and formulas
and rewarded them for reciting it.
We have done the analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating
instead of expecting our students to do it."
- Cathy Vatterott

The tale of two students...

As a teacher I often experienced different learners.  Some were tactile learners, some were auditory, some were kinesthetic, and some were visual.  The point is, every student was and is, different.

That point could not have been more clear during one specific day.

My students were learning the Core Democratic Values and then I gave them a scenario.  This involved a village ordinance, skateboarding and sidewalks.  We discussed a few of the local ordinances in our district and then I had the students split into small groups.  The idea was to get them to talk about pros and cons of the ordinance, but more importantly, take a stance and support it using a core democratic value.

One young man named Kyle struggled with this assignment.  Kyle was an extremely bright student. He had memorized every single core democratic value.  Shoot, Kyle knew all 50 states and capitals, along with all of his multiplication and division facts.  Kyle prided himself in the amount of knowledge he had.  

When I reflect on Kyle, I continue to think about how obsessed he was with grades.  It was outside validation.  On paper he was the top of the class.  He was organized, polite, hard working and always getting A's.  

Then there was Katie.  Katie was a jubilant ball of energy.  She was social, very unorganized and often turned in work late.  Katie wasn't focused on the grade, she was much more occupied with projects.

These two could not have been more different.  Most would consider Kyle the better student.  For all intents and purposes he was easier.  He was motivated by grades, and Katie, she was somewhat challenging due to the fact that she was so unorganized and chatty.

But here is where things become interesting.

Kyle was all about facts and information.  Katie was a problem solver.  Katie was filled with creativity and spunk.

My belief is that school, for decades and decades was designed for students resembling Kyle.  The system has been about compliance, effort, memorization and regurgitation.  The issue I see is what happened in my classroom years ago.  Kyle was confronted with a scenario that didn't have a set answer.  He had to think, problem solve and support his stance.  Kyle had a meltdown.  At one point he came up to me and said, "Just tell me what to do."  I looked at him with a confused expression. We headed for his desk and then I looked at his paper, it was blank.  I asked Kyle why he hadn't chose a stance.  He put his head down.  Kyle was a bright young man, but he hadn't learned to think.

Katie on the other hand wrote one of her best pieces all year.  Most students were against the ordinance and wanted skateboards to be allowed on sidewalks.  Katie took a different approach.  She defended the ordinance and supported her case of public safety.  Katie went on to talk about young children walking on sidewalks and elderly individuals getting from point to point.

I was blown away!  But I shouldn't have been.  Katie was a thinker, a problem solver and a student that wasn't afraid to go against popular opinion.  Problem was, Katie was outside of the mold when it came to school.  She wasn't a student that excelled at memorization, she didn't simply spit out facts.

As I read the book, Rethinking Grading by Cathy Vatterott, I clearly see how the "old" way of school was designed for the Kyle's of the World.  Kyle was a great kid, I loved his drive and pursuit for perfection.  Yet, I believe as a profession we need to help develop more Katie's.  We need free thinkers and students that apply learning to real life.  

I recently chatted with my friend +Nicholas Provenzano at a conference in Swartz Creek.  We talked about 20% time and he mentioned how some of his students simply say, "What do I have to do to get an A?"  I asked Nick if he thought this would change.  We both believe that it will, but it will be a slow change.  He mentioned the need for elementary and middle school teachers to, "keep the spark lit in our students."  Nick also said that the shift to standard based grading should have a positive impact in years to come.

We're experiencing a shift.  As a profession we are moving away from memorization and compliance and we are now headed for creativity, free thinking, and problem solving.  I, for one, feel excited to see how this will positively impact our world in the future.

This Week's Big Questions:  Think about your definition of "thinking and learning."  How does it fit with a new grading paradigm?  Are you helping develop problem solvers or students that regurgitate information?


Monday, December 7th:  Santa's Secret Shop
Monday, December 7th:  Running Club 4pm
Tuesday, December 8th:  PTO Meeting 7pm
Tuesday, December 8th:  Lego Club 4pm
Tuesday, December 8th:  Gym Sports Club 4pm
Tuesday, December 8th:  Santa's Secret Shop
Wednesday, December 9th:  Grades 3-5 Assembly 8:45am
Wednesday, December 9th:  Santa's Secret Shop
Wednesday, December 9th:  2:45pm brief PLC meeting in Library (Rethinking Grading)
Thursday, December 10th:  Minecraft Club 4pm
Friday, December 11th:  3:30 - 6:30 Warner Fun Night
Saturday, December 12th:  8am - 10am Breakfast with Santa

Articles Worth Reading:

Videos Worth Watching:

Mog's Christmas Calamity (3 min)

Ellen inspired Adele's new song (2 min)

@jimmyfallon shares #WorstGiftEver (4 min)

Miracle in Motown! (1 min)


  1. Be careful.... 1)You are ranking personality styles. 2) We need rule followers too. Kyle may not start a company or create the next big IT thing, but he'll probably be an excellent pilot, accountant, mechanic, safety inspector,.... We need to support all the learning styles in our classes, not just the trendy ones.

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