I am blessed with two amazing children. Both incredibly smart, but both quite different. My son, Trevor, used to be that kid who always walked around with a book in his hand. He would read any chance he got. He devoured the entire Harry Potter Series before he entered fourth grade. He loved learning and he loved school...until.
In his first week of middle school, they were asked to bring in a “book of choice” to read in class. He chose to bring Middle School, The Worst Years Of Your Life. He had struggled to find a book he enjoyed, because as he told me, “What’s left after Harry Potter”?. We picked that particular book because of the humor and the relevance. When he pulled the book out to read in class, the teacher let him know that he needed to bring a different book tomorrow, because that book was far too low for his reading level. And that is where his love of reading and school, ended.
He continued to get good grades, because that is who he was...he played the game of school well. He completed the work that was required, he aced his tests...he was compliant. He admitted to me that he never completed reading another book after that and that he learned things only for the test and to get his grade. I am sad to admit, that it was school that ended my son’s love of learning.
He is now 19 and just began his second semester of college. Earlier this week, I couldn’t believe what I witnessed and heard. My son was excited about school...about reading, learning and writing! My quiet kid (technically a man) volunteered to tell me about his day at school. Not only did he tell me about it, he was excited to tell me. Not only was he excited to tell me, he was excited to tell my mom and was dying to share his writing with us. I can't recall ever seeing any of his writing before this.
He talked about his English class and how much he enjoyed the professor, how he made the class "interesting". His required reading was filled with philosophical books, which Trevor was really digging. He was reading about things that caught his interest and sparked interesting discussions. But here is the thing that I have known, I have written about and I often speak about...but just finally witnessed first hand and close to my heart.
Here is where his mind was blown. Not long after he posted it, he received a lengthy comment from his teacher. And this was not a grade, this was not a “good job” or “great effort”...this was well thought out and personalized feedback. Before he read it to me, I wondered if it was going to be some canned response that was cut and pasted on to everyone’s...but it wasn’t. We could tell that this teacher took the time to read through his work, digest it, reflect on it and give feedback. Here is the kicker...this was done almost immediately! This was new, to Trevor. He was so excited to not only read his own writing to us, (which blew me away...I had NO CLUE he was a such a talented writer) but he was excited to read us the comments from the teacher. He was proud, he was enlightened and he was empowered. THEN, he began reading the comments from his classmates. Yes...his peers also gave him timely feedback...and it was good, specific, thought out feedback.
As this kid, my adult son, was beaming, I didn’t want him to see the tears in my eyes. I had tears not only because I was incredibly proud of his work, but I was even more moved by how proud HE was. He saw the power of writing to an authentic audience. He felt the power of real, timely feedback and he was changed.
He then began to read me responses that he wrote on his classmates’ writing. His feedback was authentic, specific and timely. He took the time to really read though their writing piece, digest it and respond...and he was excited! He couldn't wait to go back to school, he was excited to go back to that class and he was excited about learning again.
This all happened on the same night that my 13 year old crawled into bed next to me, upset that she was going to fail her two tests the next day. She was dreading school and all she could talk about that night and on the morning drive in, was how worried she was that she was going to get an “F” on her multiple choice Social Studies test. She has always struggled with memorization, but is highly intelligent and has a great analytical mind. This girl was built for Common Core and the 4 Cs, but unfortunately, that is not the experience she had been receiving. She has learned to make her own accommodations, to play the game- but at what expense? She put undue stress on herself, apologizes to me before she takes a test and doesn't recall anything after the test is over.
As educators, we have great power...we can make or break a child. This is an immense responsibility! We effect students though our words, our actions and in this case, our tasks. Let us be cognizant of these, let us be empathetic to our learners. Let us think about them, that is who we are in this for, right? We are dealing with humans here. We are tasked with serving these important and special humans. Let us make sure we are doing that...in all we do. It makes a difference.
My call to action is this: Let us really think about the purpose of what we are asking students to do. Are the tasks helping them to learn and grow? Are the experiences helping them to think? Are our students, becoming prepared for their future, their life or are they just playing the game of school to survive?
Mother, teacher, TOSA, GCE Level 1 & 2, Encourager of others.
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