Saturday, December 27, 2014

How to Define and Measure Student Success

Recently, my students completed the oral presentations we call FAME, Feudal Asia, Medieval Europe.  This year, the presentation method of choice was video. It would be simplistic to conclude students chose video because they are part of the YouTube/Instagram generation.  Video is how they learn best.  But, I suspect there are two more complex factors at work, also.  Video production allows students to present without memorizing/planning remarks.  All they have to do is learn the specific scene each time and they are good to go.  Or, they create an RSA animation style video that involves a voiceover.  No one can see they are reading their remarks.  Video allows students to move beyond the classroom and school.  The entire city becomes their set.  This year students filmed at the Lan Su Chinese Garden, Fanno Creek, and Downtown Portland, just to name a few places I recognized from their videos.

As the project took shape I began to ponder success.  Students who had horrible material management skills were suddenly showing up with the appropriate costumes and props.  Time management issues disappeared as kids turned in essays on time.  I began thinking about how success really needed to be measured individually and not always culminate with some type of performance.  Additionally, children who adore gaming were creating review games using Kahoot!

My school, as are most, is filled with performances of all kinds.  We have drama performances, music performances, kids lead assemblies, language students perform poetry for their peers, etc.  We all compliment our colleagues after a performance concludes.  Yet, what if the success actually occurs prior to the performance?  The child who may only have one line demonstrates success by helping others learn their lines.  Yet, because they only speak once, their impact on the whole activity goes unnoticed by all but the most discerning adults.  A child, for example, who has never created a video executes a terrible video, yet they should receive accolades because they took the risk and created a video complete with shooting script, plot, variety of camera angles, costumes, and other complexities.  Their first video will win no prizes, it will go virtually unrecognized by anyone except their parents, yet it represents a huge achievement for the child. 

The success experienced by the beginner matches the achievement of the more able child, yet, the more able child is perhaps held to the same standard.  As the project facilitator, one of my tasks is to determine how to appropriately challenge the more able student so that their success represents as much growth as the beginner.  Now, my PE colleagues have this figured out.  During a fitness unit, students are tested at the beginning and end of the unit.  Most children show improvement as times drop or repetitions increase.  Oh, sure, I could give a pre-test and post-test, but this type of teaching rarely measures the skills necessary to find success in a project.  I am also not talking about differentiation, the current education buzzword to allow for learning differences/abilities in schools.  Measuring success is much more.  What if the child is never performance ready?  What if the work is never shared publicly?  Is it possible the process itself defines success?  Is it possible to celebrate process?  If so, what does that look?  Comments welcome!  Let’s continue the discussion. 

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