Post Progress Report Ponderings

It’s that time of year. The leaves have fallen, the routines are doing what routines do, and the sugar buzz of Hallowe’en has officially worn off. I have just completed my first set of reports for a new learning year at my new school. As I was preparing them, I became mindful of what my students might be feeling. More so, how they then saw themselves in my classroom? Did I give them enough indication of their progress? Could they articulate or prove it?

As the date to distribute the reports approached, I sensed a bit of anxiety in some of my students. Hence this post.

To be clear, I don’t assess a lot. Yet, somehow everyday in my classroom there is an assessment. Whether it’s an informal conference with one or two students or direct/implicit corporate feedback. There are multiple opportunities for self, peer and teacher assessment as, and for learning. Including a commensurate amount of assessment of learning.

What I wonder is how that feedback is being received? Are students developing unhealthy/unnecessary anxieties even in areas where they are clearly showing competencies in my class? I wondered whether family forces are at work here? Do my students feel pressures from outside our classroom? Prior to report time and student conferences, I observed some of this stress manifesting itself in nervous behaviours, withdrawal, and even in the classic line, “my parents are going to be so mad”? Is this too much? Has education come to a crossroad where teachers are now having to show parents what they should naturally understand in their children? Should students be stressing to be perfect in grade 6? What is causing this is to happen? Can it be reversed?

Consider the quote below from 2005,

“Pressure by parents and schools to achieve top scores has created stress levels among students—beginning as early as elementary school—that are so high that some educators regard it as a health epidemic, said Denise Clark Pope, a lecturer in the School of Education and the author of Doing School: How We Are Creating a Generation of Stressed Out, Materialistic and Miseducated Students. “The number one cause of visits to Vaden Health Center used to be relationships, but now is stress and anxiety,” she said.” from http://news.stanford.edu/news/2005/february23/cheat-022305.html

As educators can we believe in the value of affirmation, redirection, and or next steps in assessment and reporting? I love what my principal shared at a recent meeting. He said, “Assessment and evaluation should be like a treasure hunt.” If we look at what our students can do(strengths based) rather than what they haven’t done yet, perhaps incidents of stress and anxiety will be a thing of the past? But if students continue to feel pressure at younger and younger ages the long term effects on the mental health of children will greatly affect generations to come. It is becoming clear to this writer and to many others that student stress must be addressed.

Can we teach students to see this in themselves by providing feedback on a regular basis that edifies and celebrates their accomplishments because of their hard work and willingness to persist? Can we incorporate coping and brain based instructional strategies into our pedagogy? In my class, it I am trying to ensure that exercise, differentiation and de-stressing/quiet time are in the instructional mix. However, it is hard to precisely measure their results because many times success appears as if nothing is happening. Adding to all of this is the reality that many parents are un-supportive of educational practices that are not based on drill and kill curriculum. All this has served to create a dissonant stress in students seeking to honour their family at the possible expense of their long-term mental health. Is this our opportunity to educate families to identify strengths in their students above areas of need to move forward, not past in learning. Is it time for a Mindset workshop?

As a teacher I value assessment  that is not easily quantified on reports, or tidy data metrics, but still provides richly infinite information and motivation for my instruction. When I incorporate this into my instruction day, I gain a more complete picture of my students, and can celebrate their hard-work, successes and failures as a means of proof they are continually being equipped and strengthened for their learning journey. One that if navigated correctly passes through stress rather than making it a destination.

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