What This Teacher Means By Whole Child Education - The Jose Vilson

What This Teacher Means By Whole Child Education

by Jose Vilson on February 9, 2012

in Mr. Vilson

On Monday, I finally handed in my second quarter grades, still dizzy from the desultory amounts of sleep I got the night before. Gasses in a baby don’t have an appointment, so I spend nights either patting my baby’s back or listening to my fiancee do this. As I start looking at my online gradebook, I put in my grades on the Excel spreadsheet in a swift manner. I quickly took note of some of the data I knew about the students and thought about their progress throughout the semester. I discerned some patterns in their exams and homework with a mix of their participation and enthusiasm for the class. From there, I gave them a grade based on what and how I felt they did throughout the year.

Most teachers do this, especially those with as much access to great pedagogical minds as I have. These are sound practices and a good balance between the pressures of pedagogical policy and sound practice. To that end, I felt comfortable with the grades I gave, knowing that these grades are as much a reflection of me as they are of the student.

But what came a day or two after that made me swing towards the father I’ve become, not just for my biological son Alejandro, but the sons and daughters I’ve nurtured to various degrees over the last few years. I spoke to my ELA counterpart and noticed that our grades were mostly the same except for a couple of students. After accounting for some of the larger discrepancies, I noticed one particular grade that shocked me some. The student in question had a much higher grade in her class than mine. After we talked, I was made aware of the student’s current home situation.

We have so many of these stories too. The mother or father leaves, the economy takes a turn for the worse, the family has to move to a region miles away from their school, but the student still manages to get to school on time whenever they get the chance. They stay home at times because they can’t afford the babysitter or the family just had another emergency that put them in a bind for the day. These are things that many of us probably couldn’t handle as children or adults, but they manage to do it. It’s their living, but we continue to evade these discussions and our role in them.

When I advocate for “whole child education,” I don’t mean we’re stuck in this talk about behavior and truancy. As I illustrated yesterday, I get tired of people telling me that kids can’t do the math because of their current situation. Having said that, we know that, if a student feels that they have one or two people in the building who care about their well-being, they tend to do better than those who don’t. I’m fairly certain that if they get the opportunities to invest something in the school (e.g.: time, public work, community service), then they also feel like the place is for them. Too often, our students feel like their school provides them with the comforts that home should.

Why not make school a place where they can feel that?

The passion which brought me to this school, the shadows that reminded me of the schools I knew from around my way, and the knowledge that these little seeds might spread across the Earth begged for me to rethink this idea of grading more rigorously. These kids already have lessons they’re getting A’s in. The A’s won’t show up on their Adequate Yearly Progress reports, won’t measure against the Common Core Learning Standards, and won’t stand up for them in a court of law. Yet, they’ll show up in character, strength, and wisdom beyond the years they’ve grown in front of me.

Many of you might argue that I’ve softened my stance somewhat from my previous positions on grading. That couldn’t be further from the truth. We ought to grade stringently, with as much clarity and focus as possible for optimal achievement. I also believe that we ought to give students a chance to meet those lofty expectations. If learning is asynchronous, who am I to deny the child the chance to learn the material within an allotted time period? Who am I to say that my grade is the same as the person who earned it?

Do we value the child or put a value on the child?

Mr. Vilson, who draws the line here …

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Ilana February 9, 2012 at 11:37 pm

I think you raise some interesting and real tensions with assessment. I think having multiple ways for a child to show competence, adapting grading systems to make sense for situations, separating issues of learning and compliance… These are all things to consider about the validity of a grading system and do not, to me, indicate going ‘soft’ just smart and more professional.

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Jim Cavallero February 10, 2012 at 6:58 pm

Jose,

I have a simple two word comment. Thank you.

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Deven Black @devenkblack February 10, 2012 at 9:43 pm

Why grade at all?

Can you clearly explain to me, or better, to the parent of one of your students, what a B means as opposed to a B-, B+, C+ or A? Will your explanation, and your scale, be the same as the teacher in the next room, on the next floor, in a different subject or the same one.

I’ve been a student most of my life and a special ed teacher for most of the past eight years and I can assure you that my B is not at all the same as te B given by the general edteacher across the hall. We both grade stringently, but I give effort a higher weight than she does (she doesn’t count it al all) so our Bs are not equivalent. So why give them at all?

It does a great disservice to a student to sum up a quarter’s work in a single letter and one or two one-line comments, and that doesn’t change when the student does a lot of excellent work or hardly any work at all.

So why do we do it?

Why don’t we have an assessment conversation with the student where we both explore that work the student has done and the arc of his improvement or lack of it? That would be more meaningful to the student and the teacher and present a more accurate picture of the student’s performance.

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Matt Mezger, Sr. February 11, 2012 at 6:59 pm

Once again, Jose. You’re the consumate adult in the room, the one who really can do the math. Sometimes as parents we tend to blame their teachers for what we know are our own kids real problems. It happens. Its a cliche to say the one thing we don’t have a pedagogy for is raising children. They too often can become our pride and joy, and then look out, we’re regressing towards the mean here.

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