It’s parent/teacher conference time here, and in order to minimise the risk posed by the COVID-19 phenomenon, our school chose to hold these conferences digitally. I’m not sure of the overall efficacy of this process, after all it was cumbersome to share student work with parents, but, from my perspective, I found the conversation to be fruitful, and in a sense more enlightening than usual.
After all had closed for the day, I sat with a colleague and we mulled over our experience, as you are wont to do at times. I mentioned to him how I had learned long ago that such events, where we get to talk with parents, are unique opportunities to garner insights into our students’ lives. Parents can tell us things that we don’t know about their students; their habits, their likes, their demeanour at home, just to name a few. Consequently, such dialogue can prove to be immensely useful in our search for the hidden keys that can turn a student’s learning experience around.
Unfortunately, experience over the years tells me that many other teachers don’t see it this way. Rather, they use the time with parents to describe why Ruth got a B in Social Studies. They open gradebooks, explain weightings, point out incomplete homework, and undoubtedly suggest that “Ruth would do better if she worked harder”.
And as I walked into various rooms to check on colleagues, it seems that what I have seen before, lives just as easily in the digital world. Of course, we need to be a little tech-savvy and prudent. After all, we only want them to see the tabs and data that is relevant. It really won’t do, accidentally or not, to pull up the Whatsapp message from Aunt Ophelia.
But for those who are high-tech crackerjacks, the medium offers a world of opportunity to dazzle with conditionally formatted live sheets, resplendent with sparklines and whizzy dials, and dashboards that predict a student’s growth curve through regressive logarithmic curve fitting that takes into account shoe size and travel time to school. Spare me please.
I overheard one conversation, actually the same conversation three teams, that went something like this.
- Conversation 1: Alphonse scored a B in his latest assessment, which is better than his previous one where he scored a C. Of course this is pretty good because it is impossible to score an A in this course. But let me look back to the previous summative, and you’ll see on the screen that if we add one extra point here…..
- Conversation 2: Ahmed scored a B in his latest assessment…..
- Conversation 3: Ludmilla scored a B in her latest…
Spare me will you?
Here we are invited into the family home, into their space, and all we can offer is arithmetic? And even the arithmetic is wrong because in our system of assessment, which is criterion based, everyone can score an A if the can meet the conditions.
Being a parent myself, I have been on the receiving end of such baloney. No dear teacher, I can tell you that my son Francois does not need to work harder at his double digit addition, he needs you to stop talking while he is trying to focus on his tasks, as he has a clear proclivity to switch off the math practice in favour of the blissful indolence that your angelic voice lulls him into.
I just don’t get it. We know so, so much about how brains work, how learning happens, what barriers exist, and how to help young people access opportunity. All we need are some of the keys that allow us to know a little about them, and yet, we would rather set ourselves up as accountants.