E. Jean Gubbins
University of Connecticut
The zeitgeist or “tenor” of the times influences schools’ policies and practices. All schools want to meet the academic needs of their students and to produce an educated citizenry. Attention to academic performance and accountability is evident as these two words are banner headlines in many education journals and newspapers. It is critical to monitor student progress carefully during the school year. As the school year draws to an end, educators often reflect on their students’ accomplishments. They think about students who struggled with concepts because their knowledge and skills were still building. It was obvious that students needed more background knowledge and time before they could apply the concepts. Educators also marvel at the academic accomplishments of young people who grasped abstract concepts easily and seemed to have a wealth of background knowledge and skills they readily transferred to new topics or concepts. It is obvious that students’ learning trajectories were different. Prior knowledge, experiences, academic motivation, and efficacy as learners have a variable effect on what students already know, what they want or need to learn, and how they illustrate their learning and understanding.
Would students who need more knowledge and time to understand concepts and those who grasp abstract concepts easily be referred to as scholars, apprentices, and learners? Or would the descriptions be judiciously applied? Encarta defines “student” as “somebody who has studied or takes a great interest in a particular subject.” Scholar, apprentice, and learner are listed as synonyms. Perhaps reflecting on this definition of student and the synonyms would be an interesting exercise. Would teachers’ expectations change? Would the classroom environment change as educators strive to develop the talents and abilities of young people? Think of 2 students that you know very well. How would you describe their academic accomplishments? What is the evidence that the students have studied or their work has indicated strong interest in a subject area? Questions such as these are valuable in reflecting on students’ performance.
Several years ago, Ann Arbor Public Schools (1993) created multiple approaches for documenting students’ performance. A very simplified adaptation of one matrix may serve as an efficient way to check your knowledge and beliefs about students’ performance. Remember students are scholars, apprentices, and learners. Consider using this matrix to rate students’ progress throughout the year.