Friday, May 31, 2013

Schools as talent refineries or talent incubators?

"In many high schools, those involved in academic programs treat the school as a talent refinery.  Their job is to deliver the curriculum to the students. Some students will get it and thrive, and others not." Dylan Wiliam
I have always been against tracking students.  People often look at me like I am crazy when I say that there should not be peaks and valleys when we look at achievement levels across grades.  I feel student achievement should be constant.  Their response is often directly related to their mindset, and their feeling is that it is their job to teach it and the students job to get it.  They go further and say things like, "they are just a bad class, they have always been low achievers, or Mr. McNeff we can't honestly think that all kids can get Algebra II can we?"  Rather than ensuring our students know and understand the material, we are just opportunity providers.  When we are not consistent as a district, students see mixed messages.  What is done in the early years can potentially impact the student for the rest of their career negatively.

At my previous school I removed most of the remedial courses, this was largely unpopular but I felt it was essential for our growth as a school.  If we say that we believe all kids can learn, then why do we provide remedial courses?  Isn't this hypocritical in a sense?  To ensure that all students take Algebra II we may have to do differently.  Does it really matter when the student gets it, or how long it takes?

If we truly want to ensure learning then we need to stop providing opportunities for kids to learn and ensure we do whatever it takes to make it happen.  Too often when a student struggles in a particular area or fails, we right them off, we say things like, "its obviously not their subject." Carol Dweck and Dylan Wiliam found that this type of message sent to the student is detrimental in how they see themselves.  We are saying you're not smart enough and may never get it.  So they give up and believe that they will never be good at math.

We need to be giving messages and feedback to students that say, "You're not smart enough - yet." Wiliam provides some interesting insight on this, in saying, "those who see ability as incremental see all challenges as chances to learn - to get smarter - and, therefore, will try harder in the face of failure."

I have thought about this with my own children.  Rather than praising they "A" on the assignment I praise the process and the hardwork that went into the good grade.  Dweck, says that when we praise the process instead of the product we create a growth mindset in the child.  When my daughter says, "I can't do this," I am always coming back with saying, you need to practice to get better.  The old cliche, practice makes perfect rings true.

We need to view student development through a coaches perspective.  Coaches in my opinion are very good at developing their players.  Rather than refining the talent on their team, they are typically busy developing all players and their skills they may be lacking. According to Wiliam, "coaches see their job as not just identifying talent, but also nurturing it and even producing it, often getting out of athletes more than the athletes themselves believed they could achieve.  What if we viewed education this way?


Embedded Formative Assessment - Dylan Wiliam

Mindset - Carol Dweck

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