I happened to see The One Ms. X, who had “thoughtfully” told me all about G on Tuesday … and I told her how well he’s been doing. I wasn’t sure how she’d react. It turns out that she was glad – and she had some additional, helpful information about why he had struggled last year (a difficult family situation) and why he’d been wanting to do better (he’s a talented athlete and wants to stay academically eligible).
It’s really not that hard to peel the factory veneer away and get in touch with the humanity, it seems. That work seems to be a big part of my mission for this new school year.
In a “normal” year, we’d be starting up a “data driven” study pretty soon, looking at students’ test scores – and trends in test scores – and trying to figure out how to improve them, seeing students as raw material and ourselves as production workers or, on a good day, shift supervisors. But last year’s tests were new and improved, and scores won’t “be back” until October at the earliest. And thanks to the New Student Information System, historical test-score data – normally available at the click of a button – isn’t currently available either; it’s still being imported from the Former System. I’m sure that Many A Ms. X and Mr. Y is frantic about that, and Many A Minor Power too. After all, how could you possibly “raise the scores” without knowing what the old scores were?
The funny thing, of course, is that the overall scores contain few clues about “raising.” What you’d want to look at is each learner’s performance with particular goals or course objectives … but that kind of useful data can only be found on printed score reports, not in The System. Does Ms. X “have time” to go and look at her students’ folders? Of course not. She’s “too busy” and it’s “too hard” and it “takes way too much time.” And what about the formative assessment training that took so much time and energy last year? That was last year’s initiative, and at least for Many A Ms. X and Mr. Y, last year’s initiative belongs to last year alone. “They” will certainly “come up with something else for Us to do this year,” she frets.
Meanwhile, the Latin Family goes about its shared work of building a joyful learning community and building meaningful things together … and we also participate in important shared work of building up our strengths and sometimes even improving on our weaknesses. How can we do it without Those Scores? We’ve never had Those Scores, because World Languages haven’t ever been “important” enough to Major Powers for tests – and scores – to be developed. We do have a wonderful new, online tool for self-assessment, which the upper-level class explored on Wednesday. And, most of all, we have ourselves and each other. I observe, and we learn to observe together, and we come to see learning a language as a process of growth and change.
Wednesday was the day the Latin I classes learned their first three Latin question words: quis? quid? and ubi? In the past, I made little posters and we practiced in various ways; this year, groups of 3-4 made posters for themselves. It made all the difference – they had to develop a visual representation, meaningful to them, of three words that you can’t “just draw” in a literal way. Once the posters were finished, I asked questions about this story we’d read on Tuesday. Someone in each group held up their poster, and someone else pointed to the Latin question word we’d used. For a while, we restated the question in English, just to make sure everyone understood it, and then we responded, chorally, with the appropriate Latin word or phrase. That choral response – its volume, speed, and participation level – told me everything I needed to know about comprehension levels, and so did the self-assessment we did at the end. Then came a whole-class reading of this story, followed by our first “tech pair” reading task. In pairs or groups of three, with at least one smartphone or tablet per group, we re-read the story and created our own Quaestiones Latinae, which we recorded, then shared with others during an activity we’re calling “Mix and Mingle.” By the end of the day – and one more round of creating Quaestiones with the familia Lollia family tree – everyone felt very comfortable with Quaestiones and Responsa. No test scores or “data analysis” needed … and none was needed with the similar process the upper-level class followed as we read the “Bridge Stories” and reviewed creating questions, too.
Scratch the surface, peel off the veneer of the factory, and get back in touch with the humanity – the community – that’s just waiting underneath. Is it really that simple but complex? And if it is that simple, why did it seem so hard before?