After a few weeks of flipping, and having time to actually talk to my students and listen to them, I now realize how much I’ve been missing all these years. I used to give tests, mark them, give them back, and that was it. No discussion, no probing to find better strategies for success, no insight gained into the child, only a number recorded. This week I (again) asked for a self-assessment on their last test. I have read some pretty heart-wrenching entries, this one in particular:
My results are poor. First, I don’t really understand why i failed. I went to tutoring and really studied hard because of my other test result which wasn’t that good either. I don’t really know what happened. Maybe I need more practice I guess.
Another one that’s hard to read, because he is being a bit hard on himself, but on the other hand, he is doing some self-analysis as a result:
Extremely disapointed in myself…It was leagues below my self standards. That did not go well at all, some of my errors were just lack of paid attention but I’m a bit troubled by others that I was originally quite confident about. I suppose tonight I may need to ask you about them should the oppotunity arrise and you have time. I apologize for that
Then there is the child who feels she must “redeem” herself, as if she has committed a crime:
I was very disappointed with myself in this test because many of the mistakes should have been easily avoided. When I look at the test, I understand all my mistakes. I found it very easy while doing it but I am a very fast paced person so little details always escape me. If there is a way I could redeem my mark I would gladly take home an extra assignment or something.
And I got to have a chuckle at this one:
BOO YAH, little errors but still VERY HAPPY
How many kids have I missed out on during my 20-odd years of teaching?
Today I would like to say to my students, past, present, and future, that in my class:
1. You are not your mark. Just like my salary does not represent me. I know that right now, to the colleges or universities you’re applying to, it seems like you are your mark. But you know better. And I do too.
2. The goal is not perfection, it’s growth. And the growth doesn’t even have to be in math, it can be that you learn something about how you learn best, or a better way to get organized, or you discover that you love factoring! Yes, factoring!
3. When you learn something, and you share it, everyone wins. When you don’t share it, it stops with you. Almost no point to that. What you shared with me in this self-assessment is WAY more important than your mark.
4. When you answer your own questions, you get inspiration. You cannot attach a number to that. When you answer the test questions, all you get is a mark. I’m a math teacher, a number geek, and even I prefer the inspiration over the number.
5. Math and science are not the most important things in the world. The arts are just as important. Just try living without movies, music, photography, books, poetry, dance. Or blogs!
I guess this is what they mean (and I forget who said this) by don’t teach the content, teach the student!