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Discover the Power of The Words 'Not Yet'

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not-yet-1426593_640.pngAll of us respond to encouragement and support. Whether it is as professionals, or as athletes, or as family members or public servants, encouragement and support are important. Internally, most of us know who we want to be, what we want to be able to do, and how well we want to be able to do it.  It is rewarding and motivating when others see those things and appreciate them.

In formal/academic learning what often gets in the way, for children and professionals, is the lack of time and effort given to understanding and agreeing to the objectives and standards to which we are striving. Limited time is given to gaining understanding of exactly what is it we are expected to do, how well we are expected to do it, and how well are we able to do it.  Every new mandate or report pushes us to jump in and get started. Often it happens without the important time spent understanding what we are jumping into or what we will expect of others.

We measure students, teachers, and principals with standards that have been established by some external source. Even in the earliest of grades generally accepted standards of performance guide teachers as they evaluate their students. Teacher and principal evaluation is done in much the same way.  Although an accepted practice, it is not an effective one. Well, it is an effective way to keep a record and gather data but not effective in encouraging, supporting, engaging and developing learners. Only some of the most talented students, who have mastered learning and strive for higher and higher grades can use their grades as motivation to work harder. The rest do not. The same is true of the adults.

What Invites Learners to Advance?
Some are looking toward eliminating grades for students. Others rely on well-articulated rubrics for students and the adults who teach and lead them.  The intention is to support the learner in their learning journey. Yet, there is little evidence that is working. This is not to say teachers and principals and students aren't working hard.  We are not finding exceptional results.

Build Understanding,  Rubrics Help
When those being evaluated are invited to participate in the creation of and/or understand the expectations/standards to which they are being held the process begins to make sense. Rubrics have long been included as a practice for evaluating students and educators. The intention of rubrics is to clearly articulate expectations at different levels of performance. But a step that is often missed, no matter who is being evaluated, is the inclusion of those evaluated in contributing to the development of those definitions and the offering of clear examples of what each standard, objective, and indicator looks like. The reason that is important is, even in the cases where rubrics are bought or imposed, understanding and accepting the target behavior is the first step toward success.  Few will arrive at the goal if it is not well understood at the outset. Time spent on generating understanding, whether with little ones, the teachers who facilitate their learning, or the leaders for the learning environment as a whole, is time well spent. 

Once the learner, whether student or teacher, can see and understand the objective and the indicators that inform them of their progress toward that objective, opportunity for engagement increases. Stop focusing on informing learners of their letter or number and empower them to join us in the assessment. Then, instead of an "A" or a "B", a 75% or a 55%, students and their teachers will say or hear, "Not yet."

Questions to Ask When Building an Evaluation

  1. Is what's being measured important in order to obtain the skill or meet the objective?
  2. Are the steps clearly articulated and in language the one being evaluated truly understands? (and in cases where it can apply, are the ones being evaluated included in building this language?)
  3. Does the next step in the rubric clearly explain what is needed in order to move to that level?

Learn As A Faculty
A fun exercise that can help highlight these steps is asking a group, the department, the grade level or the entire faculty to create a rubric listing the characteristics of an exceptional partner and the levels of performance. As the task begins it is clear how difficult it is to unpack what attributes contribute to the best partner. Defining the characteristics, it becomes apparent that it is somewhat different depending on the person developing the rubric. After the attributes are articulated, the work of describing level 1, 2, and 3 begin.  It is not acceptable to say what is not present, only what needs to be present and language must be specific.  For example,  "Demonstrates interest in my work" may be a category but for someone to progress from a level one to a level two, we need more information. So, for example, a level one may be, "Asks "how did it go?" when I return from a school " and a level two may be, "Engages me in conversation about education that arose when he/she read in the paper or heard on the news" Here, the partner knows exactly what behavior is needed to move up. If they are still at "how did it go?", The partner knows what is expected and knows how to get there..." The feedback isn't failure, it can be 'Not yet'.

This exercise and the conversation it provokes helps reveal the difficulties as well as the specifics necessary to develop a rubric that will help turn the thinking and the behavior of teachers and learners toward a learning journey and away from a labeling exercise. 

In the End
The words 'Not yet' offer hope, challenges, and can help engage the learner in a journey where they can clearly see the path.  Learners, adult or child, should feel invited into an exciting and creative process that yields the assessment. Learning from the assessment is essential to moving forward in the learning process. Try the words 'Not yet' and clearly articulating the way forward. It may open the door for student and teacher to arrive at a new level of success. But for now, have we mastered this business of student engagement, learning, and assessment?  Unfortunately, 'Not yet.'   

Ann Myers and Jill Berkowicz are the authors of The STEM Shift (2015, Corwin) a book about leading the shift into 21st century schools. Connect with Ann and Jill on Twitter or Email.

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