A Reflection on the True Distance of Student Progress
My husband and I love road trips. If we have the time, we opt to drive rather than fly. Always.
Why? Often, the journey provides as much joy as the destination. And, it’s a great opportunity to reflect and learn.
Last week, driving back from our camping and hiking trip to Colorado, provided such an opportunity.
If you have ever had the pleasure of driving through the panhandle of Texas, you have seen these amazing fields of wind farms dotted with enormous wind turbines.
While passing an expansive group of these massive windmills, I stated, “You know, those things look like they are turning too slowly to produce any energy.”
My husband had a very insightful reply.
“You’re looking at it wrong. It’s all about perspective. You don’t see a lot of speed or progress when you only look at the center. But if you open up and look at the whole thing – all the way to the tips, you can see they are moving very fast while progressing much further. The tips have a long way to travel. They are, actually, moving very fast.”
The same can be said for student progress, yes? It IS all about perspective.
Objective measures, such as state standardized tests, are often the focus, the center of the wind turbine, if you will. If the perspective is too narrow, and only the “center” is observed, it can look like little to no progress was made in one year – like some students didn’t travel very far or move very fast.
But the distance students actually travel is far. The blades of those turbines are extensive, as are the skills students need to be a successful learner. Not all of those skills can be measured by the assessments with which students are evaluated in one year, and the results of those assessments are not a reflection of all the progress they actually make.
My daughter did not meet the standard on the state assessments every year from 3rd through 6th grade. For four years, it seemed, she made little to no progress. But, in reality, she traveled far in those four years. By 7th grade, because of the guidance of all those teachers, she had learned what her specific learning needs were and how to advocate for those needs in the classroom. She knew what questions to ask and how to tell a teacher she needed something different.
She’s a 10th grader now, and she has met the standard on the state assessment each year since then. What is of much greater significance, though, is the valuable knowledge and lifelong learning skills she now utilizes that cannot be measured. She knows how she learns and how to elicit the guidance she needs from her teachers to be successful.
Teachers don’t always know the long term effects of their guidance and instruction. We can’t always see how far students travel. The real progress cannot be observed if the perspective is too narrow – if we only look at the center of the turbine.
Don’t lose sight of the greater impact you, as an educator, are making. Widen your perspective, and keep yourself open to the possibility, that although you can’t always see the impact immediately, the impact you make will help students travel great distances.