Amplifying Minds

Learning and Growing Together

Mindsets and Expectations

I think most teachers go into each new school year with high expectations for a new beginning, to try new strategies, and to work anew to be a better teacher.  I believe students go into new school years with enthusiasm for a new beginning as well. The excitement, especially in an elementary school, is palpable– at least for the first few days.

I always have the expectation that this year will be the year I can keep control of the piles on my desk and not let them run away willy-nilly so that I only have enough room on my desk to open my laptop each day.  I expect that I will manage to control those piles, but so far I have not lived up to those expectations.

But mindsets and expectations are so often communicated subliminally…and I’ve begun wondering what all the pre-assessment we do at the beginning of the year communicates.

Recently we gave a pre-assessment in one of our grades, and the test was simply a released state test, usually given at the end of the year to see if kids learned the mandated curriculum.  The reason we give this is to find out which kids know a lot of the curriculum already so we can do an initial sorting of kids for instructional groupings.  It’s not a test we use for remediation, but instead for a kind of acceleration–sorting out the “high achievers” so they can go faster through and further than the mandated curriculum.

Why aren’t we using different kinds of assessments to find out what kids know? We talk about how the state multiple choice tests aren’t the best way to assess….so why use it here? This one was already created and easy is why–and there are times we just do that, for sanity’s sake, to save a bit of time, or to get a quick sort.

We tell the kids that this test is to see how much they already know of what we are supposed to teach them–so they will likely encounter things they have never seen or heard of before and if they truly have no idea, just to skip the question. As the gifted resource teacher, I was given  the kids who were identified, who had worked in math groups with me before, or who were new and records indicated they might be high achievers. I also asked my kids to note the numbers of the questions they made educated guesses on and which they just plain guessed, if they chose to answer one they really didn’t know.

Of course the kids who know how to play school tried to answer every question. Despite us teachers telling them it was okay to skip, not one of my kids skipped a question–and they had several “guesses” noted. So, I would bet their scores were a bit inflated by the fact they guessed–and probably are good test takers to begin with. In another room, though, there were kids who skipped more questions than they answered–and their scores were some of the lowest of the group.  So what does that tell us other than perhaps they give up easily?

Now we’re triangulating data–how they did on the pre-assessment, how they did on last year’s state test, what their records show, etc., to set up our instructional groups.  Did kids who skipped many, many answers end up in a group together?  Did kids who guessed well get given to the group whose instruction is being designed to go faster and further? As we group, are we addressing kids who work fast or slow, who persevere or not, who have strategies or who don’t? Should we? Have we analyzed the data we got beyond the scores, or are we simply looking at the numbers?

My expectation is to look at learning and testing behaviors as seriously as we look at the number they got right or wrong.  My expectation is that kids will share their thinking with me as they go along, marking which questions they guessed on and not simply skipping things. My expectation is that working slowly does not nix you getting into the fast group–I want to know what’s the reason for that slowness?  Lack of knowledge?  Checking the answer a variety of ways?  Inattention to the task?  I need to know more before allowing anyone to knock the kid down a group for the speed at which they work.

And do we really believe kids don’t know when they are sorted into bluebirds and buzzards? What mindset does that give them, to find they are a buzzard?  What expectations do they then have of themselves?

Should how fast or slow a kid works determine what group they’re in? Do we care whether a kid guessed or made an educated guess, or knew the answer on a multiple choice test?

Should we have achievement groupings anyway? Please notice I use the term achievement versus ability.  We know what kids have done–we can document their achievement.  We do not ever truly know what a child’s ability is–and if we profess to, we are using a fixed mindset rather than a growth one.  I’d rather assume kids are capable.

What do we inadvertently teach and show through our actions? What mindsets do kids and/or parents assume by what we do? And, how many of the reflective questions posed here really have to do with learning? With “Amplifying Minds”?


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4 thoughts on “Mindsets and Expectations

  1. Karen Marcus on said:

    Thank you for distinguishing between ability and achievement? If we call groups ability groups to students, parents and ourselves as teachers, does that not put an invisible lid on that which everyone thinks the student is capable? Language is powerful.

  2. I prefer the term performance level – the level of a child’s daily work – may be unrelated to ability level (which is unmeasureable) for countless reasons

  3. I found this post relevant to my own beginning of the year. We test students on so many levels, using both standardized and non-standardized methods. I find it somewhat challenging to build a community of trust and risk taking while simultaneously putting bubble sheets in front of them with the message, here, I judg you. Thanks for the thoughtful words this morning.

  4. Pingback: First Day Plans | Amplifying Minds

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