This is my space to rant and rave, vent and vex about education, my passion. I am calling it "Mining for Hidden Gems" because of the above quote and because as a teacher, my job is to look for those gems. The real valuable ones are not usually on the surface. You have to dig deep to find them.

I am also borrowing from Katherine Bomer's wonderful book Hidden Gems: Naming and Teaching From the Brilliance in Every Student's Writing. It has changed the way I look at not just student work but students themselves and all people around me.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Are You A Guide or A Gate Keeper?

A middle school math teacher's grading policy says that students can make corrections to tests and quizzes only if they fail and then, only to bring up their grade to a 70.  My graduate studies professor, on the other hand, taught for mastery, giving everyone the opportunity to go back and learn what was missed on any test or assignment.

I think there are two ways of looking at our job as teachers:  We can act as gate keepers, letting through those who either know the material already or learn it quickly and in the way we are most comfortable teaching, and keeping out those who for one reason or another don't "get" it right away.  Or we can be guides, meeting each student where he or she may be, getting to know his or her strengths and believing that there is a time and a way for everyone to reach the same learning destination.

We are gate keepers when we focus on what is missing and miss what is there.  We may feel uncomfortable accommodating different learning needs and styles.  We see injustice in giving the same final grade to the student who mastered the objective in the first week of instruction as to the one who had to try and try but managed to reach the same level of proficiency by the end of the grading period.  (The real injustice is to subject those who already knew the material to the same learning path as those who may not have come to us with the same set of skills.)

As  guides we see the hidden gems, we find a way to use the student's strength to leverage against the weaknesses, and see kids as the future adults that they will become and not as the struggling child that they are now.  We see the end in the beginning.  If we have a clear idea of where the destination is and are skilled in taking our travelers to that destination, we can choose any of the many roads available to us.

Children come to school to learn, not to perform. This is not to say that we should not have benchmarks for tracking their learning and propelling it forward.  But we cannot be so focused on the final product that we miss the value of the process that gets them there.  Children come with curiosity and lots of questions that begin with why and how.  Our task is to help them find their real selves, their real passions. Our challenge, as Howard Gardner puts it, is to not worry so much about how smart they are but to find out how they are smart.