Sharing Benchmark Scores With Students? #TeacherMom

I recently came across this article from Fountas & Pinnell entitled, “A Level is a Teacher’s Tool, Not A Child’s Label.”

Fountas and Pinnell believe very strongly that students’ reading levels have no place in teacher evaluation or on report cards to be sent home to parents. Too much emphasis on levels can lead to misconceptions on the part of families. Informing parents of the level at which their child is reading can make them uneasy.  They may see the level as a very exact measurement, but students don’t always read at a precise level. Parents also talk with other parents, and if they find that their child is reading at a lower level than other children, they might panic. But they don’t understand the intricacies of how those levels work the way you do.

I completely understand where Fountas & Pinnell is coming from here. As a teacher myself, I was glad during my daughter’s last parent teacher conference to possess the background knowledge of these assessments’ imperfections — we chatted about their subjectivity and the uneven spacing between levels (for instance, in the program my school used, it was an extra wide gap between levels T and U for some reason).

I also worry about our students and their parents taking too much stock in these assessments and therefore experiencing pressure, lack of confidence, and yes, even labels. And I recently wrote about my quandary over whether to share scores at all yet with my first grader (Will it Help Or Hurt to Review Scores with My First Grader?).

All that said, I believe that in order for students to take the wheel in driving their own learning, they should be able to reflect using available resources and data to inform their decisions and progress. Not to mention the whole idea of “No secret teacher business!

So is there an in-between place here?

The more I reflect on this, the more I believe there can be — but with some important considerations, including, but probably not limited to the following:

  • Data should only be one piece of the feedback puzzle. Reading benchmarks are a much less frequent and much more formal form of assessment. Students should rely much more on regular formative assessments as they make course corrections in their learning/growth.
  • Seek transparency not just about the data itself, but on its limitations. That it’s not an exact measurement. That there is a definite degree of subjectivity. That it’s meant to compare individual students’ levels against their own progress — not against anyone else in the class.
  • Are students developmentally ready for the type of data you can share? If, as in the story I shared in “Will It Help or Hurt to Review Scores with My First Grader,” the student has yet to even comprehend the nature of data, then it would be counterproductive to share.
  • Ensure there’s a clear connection between the data, metacognition, and “what’s next.” Help students tune into their own thinking about their progress, and maintain a dialogue on the strategies that will best help them move forward.
  • Ensure that students understand that the data is never the goal, but a guide. The goal is always learning, and data serves as lampposts along the way.
  • Protect intrinsic motivation. Students should want to progress for the sake of progression, not for the sake of their levels moving up.

There’s not necessarily a clear-cut answer to the question of whether we should share benchmark data with students. But as long as we are actively engaging with our students to help them take ownership over their progress, we are on the right track.

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On the Brink of Boundaries/Sanity #TeacherMom

Back when I was studying to become a teacher, I remember the day my professor drew a highly technical drawing that looked something like this:

The topic of discussion was on boundaries. My professor explained that if we’re clear and firm on our boundaries, students will recognize the limits and stay safely inside; conversely, if students sense a weak spot in the “fence” they will all come along to test it out.

Seemed reasonable. I jotted a line in my notebook, adding it to my list of teacher preparation tips, and went on my merry way.

What it did not prepare me for was the magnitude of said “testing,” not with my students, and most certainly not with my three year-old son.

Take this morning for instance. He declared he didn’t want banana bread. His sister then asked for some banana bread. He then insisted that not only did he want banana bread, but made it clear that the world would end if he did not have banana bread.

Knowing his track record for eating only two bites, I told him that if I gave him some, he would have. to. eat. it. That he would get nothing else until he did so. He agreed.

And like a rookie, I fell for it. I gave him banana bread. Of which he took two bites. And then asked for something else.

Here was my chance to hold firm on my boundaries, and boy, did he test them.

He seemed to possess a finely tuned sense that my boundaries — and my sanity — were hanging on by the slimmest of threads. And the whole herd was rather methodically working away at that vulnerable place.

But that’s when more wisdom on boundaries returned to my memory, this time, from Brene Brown:

See, boundaries aren’t just about keeping the “herd” from wreaking havoc in every which direction. They are about compassion for ourselves and for those around us.

We are compassionate enough to ourselves to hold true to our values (ie, food waste and follow-through in the above story). And we are compassionate enough to others to be clear, direct, and kind so that we don’t end up harboring unseen resentment (ie, lingering frustration with my son and myself had I caved).

And so I held on. I worked to focus on those boundaries and my values I was working to preserve and instill, rather than the frustration that threatened to devolve the whole thing into a shouting match.

Fortunately, this particular story has a happy ending. We left the banana bread for a couple hours and when we came back, he was perfectly happy to eat it before getting a new snack.

Which just goes to show what a break can do for a battle of wills — and preservation of our boundaries and our sanity.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto


Mistakes & Trust, Expectations & Understanding #TeacherMom

Close the door behind you. Use both hands to carry things that might spill. Keep your voice down when baby is sleeping. Eat breakfast in a timely manner. Shoes off in the house. Toilet lid closed. Coat hung up. Mess cleaned up. 

The list goes on and on and on. And then these small humans go to school with a similar, but separate list.

With lists that long, mistakes are inevitable. The question is, what becomes of trust?

As usual, Brene Brown nails it here. As parents and teachers, we have a precious opportunity to teach children what it looks like to “make amends, stay aligned with our values, and confront shame and blame head-on.”

We can model to them what we do when we make mistakes to try to forge trust in our relationships, as well.

But of course, when backpacks get left on the floor again, or when the milk glass gets spilled again, it’s easy to let frustration take the driver’s seat and throw all trust and understanding out the window. It’s also easy to feel like they should know that expectation by now, and to show understanding would be to void responsibility.

But if we do that, we leave no room for trust, for opportunity to “make amends” and try again.

So instead, choose trust.

Give them a chance to clean it up.

Work together to build greater mutual understanding.

Exemplify vulnerability and the messy, hard work of relationship-building.

And while we’re at it, print off this Engaged Checklist, also from Brene Brown, and keep it posted in a handy spot…

  featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

An Open Teacher Appreciation Letter #TeacherMom

I dreaded kindergarten from the day my oldest was born.

I knew, even before the years of careful nurturing had even begun, that the day would come to let go. That I would go from knowing what she did every moment of every day to being totally in the dark for large swaths of time.

That darkness terrified me. Because no matter how much we chatted about her day, I knew much would remain undisclosed — even significant moments that she might not recognize yet as significant.

Now that she has almost finished first grade — her first year of being at school for a full school day — my fears have been greatly assuaged, first and foremost thanks to her phenomenal teachers that have taken the time to communicate and show they care.

So, especially with National Teacher Appreciation Week coming up next week, I’d like to say, thank you. 

Thank you for leveraging the most useful forms of communication to help us keep in touch, from notes home to Facebook Messenger (I especially loved the occasional photos of all things random, quirky, and awesome).

Thank you for that time you expressed a hope she was feeling better when she’d had a tough day.

Thank you for being understanding of the sometimes-graphic descriptions of all her experiences with vomit that she thoroughly enjoyed sharing. With the whole class.

Thank you for being there for her in all those endless details and difficulties of being 6 years old, from figuring out buying milk to learning to sit at the carpet to dealing with hurt feelings — all while teaching her to become more responsible for herself.

Thank you for seeing and nurturing her passions — even when it meant creating an extra folder just for her to organize her 20 page personal narrative.

Thank you. As teachers, we often refer to our students as “our kids.” Thank you for meaning it, and treating her as your own. And thank you to teachers everywhere who do the same.

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An Investment in Book Love: Reframing My Perspective #TeacherMom

Ahhh, book love. There’s nothing quite like watching my kids wade through stacks and stacks of books.

With 3 tiny humans in the house, I’ve long-since determined that all the frayed corners, torn pages, and disheveled shelves are simply signs of love and affection. Plus, I figured that, given that any attempts at order look a LOT like the meme below, what was the point?

I also firmly believe that to teach responsibility, we can’t be constantly cleaning up after/solving problems for our kids — if they want to be able to find all their books and keep them in good shape, they need to learn to take care of them, right?

But recently, all of this was set aside with a bout of spring cleaning which extended to sprucing up the books.

We sorted them by size…


…and collections.


I knew it likely wouldn’t last, but it still felt nice to have them organized.

To my delight, I discovered an unexpected outcome after nap time/school. Though I didn’t add a single new book during this clean-up process, it was as if my kids were seeing them all anew. They spent the rest of the day exclaiming over books they thought were lost and enjoying entire collections or author groups.

Though I know details like right-side-up and spine out will still fall mostly to me, this experience has shown me that I can view my time spent here with a fresh perspective.

Until the day comes that my kids can fully exercise fine motor and organizational skills, shaping their reading environment is an investment on my part.

Meanwhile, I can still teach them responsible book care within their abilities — it does not need to be an all-or-nothing kind of approach. But if I get a new idea to present their books in a way that will spark renewed interest and book love, nothing should get in the way of that.

After all, if “doing for them what they cannot do for themselves” doesn’t extend to fostering deeper love of reading, what does?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Ode to a Newly Crawling Baby #TeacherMom

“We call the early years formative. What is firing the brain? It’s nothing less than a sense of self. How does it feel to be me? How does it feel to be human? That’s what’s forming. Our sense of self and our sense of the world.”

via Case Wade

I see your joy. You sit up with a straight back, surveying the world from a perspective you’ve never seen.

I see your deliberation. You make a bee-line for the dog bowls every time we set you down, already knowing that if you do so stealthily enough, you’ll find a prize.

I see your intensity. You move from room to room and object to object, patting, squeezing, raspberry-blowing, all with an astonishingly palpable focus.

I see your relentlessness. You already possess an uncanny sense for the moments your parents most need a break, and will do just about anything to ensure you have our undivided attention.

“Learning isn’t having an agenda. It’s forming associations, recognizing when they discover. When they put things together they’ve never put together before.”

Most of all, I see your connection-building. You are already laying the foundation — with a magnitude I can scarcely comprehend — for the learning that will take place for the rest of your life. These connections, these moments of comprehension, are like golden threads criss-crossing all over our home, constantly reinforced as you feel your way across them again and again.

“The most important ingredient is the people who interact on a regular basis with young children. A baby does something, and the adult response to what the baby’s doing. It’s this back and forth responsiveness that’s absolutely essential for brain development.”

That I am an integral part of this process is humbling. You are reminding me of the connection between learning and relationships; of the need to learn when to set down the lists and sit down with the people. In this way, you are strengthening my ability to connect with those around me — as a parent, teacher, and human being.

So, little one, although I wish you’d sometimes slow down, I look forward to all we will continue to learn together.

Quotes from the documentary, The Beginning of Life, (streaming on Netflix) by filmmaker Estela Renner.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

The Opportunities Afforded by Authenticity (aka, Watching Moana with My Kids) #TeacherMom

I know a Disney movie has nailed it for me when I find myself repeatedly playing the songs in my head without tiring of it. Moana was just such a film.

But what I loved even more than the strong characters, plot, and score was respectful care that went into representing Polynesian culture. A bonus features documentary shared the production crew’s visits and connections with the people of Fiji, Samoa, Tahiti, and other islands, expressing the heartfelt desire to portray their culture in a way that would be authentic and recognizable. As one of the Tahitian cultural experts said,

“Our culture is very important for us because it’s the spirit, it’s the soul for our island. It carries values. It carries our life.” ~Hinano Murphy

The documentary highlighted many different cultural elements studied, including music, navigation, coconut use, tattoos, and more. But what really caught my 6 year-old’s attention was the Haka.

She was especially interested in the facial expressions and tongue waggling — in her experience, such behavior indicated silliness, but she sensed an alternate purpose.

So we watched a couple videos, including an emotional Haka performed at a wedding, and one the New Zealand All Blacks Team performs. We discussed the meaning, the unity, and the strength. We discussed sacred traditions within cultures, and how we should turn our hearts toward understanding rather than disdain when we encounter something we don’t initially understand.

I was proud of her respectful response. And not only did our discussion lead to her recognizing aspects of her own culture, but she was also able to make connections in subsequent days to other unfamiliar cultural gestures (such as kissing cheeks in greeting).

Had Disney not been as dedicated to an authentic representation of the culture, this learning opportunity would have been lost (or worse, she would have gained a skewed perspective).

To me, this was a reminder of the critical role of authenticity in education. Wherever possible, we must seek out the honest and shun the watered-down. Not only will this give our students a more accurate view of the world around them, but their learning experiences will be richer for it.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto