24 May Slice of Life: Knowing Their Names
“I want to thank my husband who, for all the years I have been teaching, has always known the names of each of my students.” Mary Ellen Caesar
We had the privilege to attend the Cape Cod Council’s Annual Spring Banquet last week. Mary Ellen Caesar was honored at the event and during her speech she shared these words. We were struck by the power behind these words. To us, these words represent the power of formative assessment.
When our students’ stories come home with us, when we care enough to carry their stories, we know we are focusing on the reader behind the number. Our students need to be more than a letter, a number or a level. We need to use assessment to find their story, to understand them and connect with them. When our families know the names of our students we know we are thinking about them and connecting with them as humans. This is what makes a great teacher.
Research demonstrates the importance of connection with achievement. When one looks at the research literature across the different fields of inquiry, three school characteristics stand out as helping young people feel connected to school while simultaneously encouraging student achievement: (1) high academic standards coupled with strong teacher support; (2) an environment in which adult and student relationships are positive and respectful; and (3) a physically and emotionally safe school environment. (Blum, 2005)
In an era when assessment is causing so much debate, we need to remember the positive side of assessment. When we take the time to connect, encourage, and set high expectations we are assessing. We have the power redefine assessment and put it in perspective. If we give more value to formal, quantitative, summative assessment it will be valued more. If we use it to triangulate our data, as just another data point among many data points, we put it in perspective. We hope the families of every teacher know the names of her students… that is connection that will touch the lives of our students and impact their achievement. It begins with knowing their names and their stories.