I have taken up the mantra that ALL students deserve to learn at high levels. It is sobering to think about what it takes to achieve such a goal, and while it is a lofty vision, it is doable.
I’m often in conversations with teachers and administrators related to activities and practices to increase student learning. While I am rarely challenged about all students learning at high levels, I am sure that many are asking themselves questions and wondering what it actually takes to make this vision a reality.
I am reminded of a time in high school band class. We were sight reading a new piece of music and my part contained a flourish (a bunch of notes between two beats) that was very difficult, and the notes were not part of a typical scale. I remember declaring that it was “impossible” to play, and my band director’s response was simply to laugh. I was a pretty good high school musician, and only knew what I knew at the time. It would take years of development, study, and practice to understand my naivety.
I won’t go into all the pieces that are necessary to have all students learn at high levels, but I do want to illustrate an idea of how sustained, intentional efforts over many years can have an effect. Let’s take a look at a hypothetical student in their sophomore year in high school (we’ll call him Roy) whose best efforts only attain him a D- in a certain subject. I won’t spend time in this post discussing that a typical grade may not be the best method to assess learning. For now, let’s suspend that conversation and just say that the best this student can do is a D-. If that were the fact, do we believe that Roy could grow to his best, attaining a D in one year? Hmmm… I love pulling out my time machine, so let’s do that and take Roy back to 2nd grade. Here is his growth trajectory if we use a grade to measure learning.
- 2nd grade – F
- 3rd grade – D-
- 4th grade – D
- 5th grade – D+
- 6th grade C-
- 7th grade C
- 8th grade C+
- 9th grade B-
- 10th grade B
While a straight-line growth trajectory is extremely unlikely, we need to remember that we have Roy for 13 years! Much like financial interest, we can compound his learning growth. Early intervention and non-stop sustained support is Roy’s best opportunity to learn at his potential. (Please don’t think that all of our problems should be solved in the primary grades. A student with a learning challenge will always have that challenge.)
Can we believe that something is beyond us now, yet have hope that we will eventually gain the capability as a learning organization to achieve such an audacious goal? I’ll save “Collective Efficacy” for a future blog post. 🙂