One of the hallmarks of progressive education is a deep respect for learners and the learning process. Progressive educators put children’s discoveries, struggles, and questions at the center of their practice. We take children and learning seriously. Among other things, this means teachers are assiduous collectors of data. We watch middle schoolers carefully; we notice when and where a math problem goes off-track, which types of writing are a stretch, which classmates make the best partners, when a student's stamina is starting to run out, and what works best to refresh it.
The fact that we consider all these details worth noting is one aspect of our respect for learners and learning. The other is that we don’t keep this information to ourselves. We are constantly looking for ways to enlist our middle school students as partners in their own growth. We tell them what we notice about their learning. We ask them to tell us what they notice too. Feedback and reflection are essential to learning. Most adults’ experience in school was that the teachers would reserve feedback until the end of the year, and then give letters - A’s B’s, etc. These letters felt like a gift or a punishment, rather than advice, and were always too late to be useful in adjusting one’s strategies.
Our constant feedback to students takes many forms. Teachers conference with their students, they make passing comments in the midst of an activity, they write notes on essays and quizzes, and they give scores on learning standards. Learning standards are the essential skills for that class. These scores - from one to four - represent where a student is on their journey toward mastery. Rather than rewards or punishments, these scores are a reflection for each student, to demystify where they are. All of our feedback helps students apply effort where it’s most needed. And rather than a final judgement, they represent a transitory moment in the learning process. A score of “2” (approaching expectations) makes the learning process transparent for students, advisors, and families. It helps illuminate where the student needs to apply greater effort. A score of “3” (meeting expectations) indicates which areas of strength a student might leverage to make that effort. It starts - or continues - an important conversation.
Starting next week, students and families alike will have access to our online system for recording these scores (called JumpRope). On behalf of the middle school teaching team, I encourage you to talk to your child about the learning standards themselves (what each teacher considers essential knowledge and skills), and about the scores themselves (what does it mean to have a 2, or a 3). Remember that this type of feedback is one among many and that teachers communicate in myriad ways, in person and in writing. As always, reach out to us if you have questions. Look out for an email giving you your new password to the JumpRope portal next week.
Ana Fox Chaney
Middle School Principal