Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Allowing Students to Advance Based on Competency, Not Time

This afternoon, one of my students came to see me during my office hours. He has been working on blog post rough drafts about a novel he is reading. The focus of this unit is on point of view and perspective, but the students have been given a great deal of freedom to show mastery of many of the standards we have worked with so far this year. This student is an online student, but he frequently attends my face to face office hours, and has since the beginning of the school year. I have interacted with him online through the course, emails, and Twitter, and asked that he see me for additional support and direction with his blogs. I had a few questions that I thought would be best discussed face to face. Because I teach in a blended learning environment, I try very hard to make my meetings with students purposeful and meaningful.

My student arrived to discuss his final drafts, and to take an end of the unit proctored essay. When my student walked in to my classroom, I asked that he sit at my desk and log in to the class so that we could go over his posts together. He did. We talked. His blog posts were summaries, which contained mostly facts about the reading. The information was information I could find on my own. It was not unique. There was not one iota of my student within his blog posts. I said, "We are not going to discuss these posts you have submitted." I grabbed a piece of paper and a pen (old school... I usually do this using technology, but at this moment, and with this student, this felt right), and started to ask my student questions about the focus of the unit, about the book, about his ideas and insights. I wrote down everything he said in my sloppiest handwriting. We discussed literature. He compared this novel to a poem he read last year. He compared this novel to a story he read for another course. He made connections, he spoke about the themes, he told me a story of a family member who shared stories with him that were similar to the stories in his chosen novel. I looked at him and asked, "Is any of this in any of your blog posts that you submitted to me?" "No," he said, a bit surprised.

He was going through the motions. I told him that my job as a teacher is to encourage him to think, to create his best work, to learn, and to improve. Tonight, during my office hours, he did not take an end of the unit assessment. He was not ready. Instead, he grabbed a laptop, and started to write. He did not have to stay. He chose to sit and to create, and from his heart came a very moving post. He called me over and asked me to read what he had written. It was beautiful. It was improved. It was genuine. It took longer than I thought. I extended his deadline.

My student came in because he thought he had completed the required assignments. He had not mastered the standards, and he had not shown me that he was ready to move on. I could have given him points, if that was the goal, but I didn't. His educational needs are different than his classmates. I could have given him partial credit, he could have passed based on work submitted, but then what? Then I never would have seen what he was capable of, and I would not be allowing him to show he is competent, not only in meeting a time sensitive deadline, but in meeting a performance-based goal. By allowing this student to advance based on competency, not time, he will hopefully learn more in the end, and gain more confidence in the process.