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What does learning look like?

Ah, the first weeks of the new school year. Erasers smell fresh and look pink, binders actually click open and closed, the agenda book is fairly empty...As a teacher and a tutor, I am asked how I 'know' if a child is learning. This is fairly easy to answer, even though the answer is often not what the parent wishes to hear.

I am writing this blog to explain what I do as a tutor and why WyzAnt promotes this type of communication between a tutor and parents.

I wish every A grade correlated exactly to a wonderful, bright, on their way towards middle school, high school or college student and every D indicated an ill prepared student, one lacking in persistence, study habits or does not care. This is not nearly the case. Grades measured at school address specific items and applications of the learning process. An A is as good as the rubric, quiz, assignment it aligns to and a D grade is a combination of lack of effort on part of the student and effort from the parents, teacher and in my case - the tutor. An A no more indicates perfection than a D indicates stupidity. These are merely measures of an event in time. An A is a subjective observation against a set of criterion just as much as a D grade.

A grade is not indicative of much. What is really the key to learning is something called an anecdotal record. An anecdotal record is the long form written observation of a student as related to (not compared to) specific learning landmarks (think of Piaget) such as understanding fractions as division of a whole unit AND the smaller the pieces (each one being equal), the more pieces are created. This is a difficult concept for adults to understand, however, as a teacher/tutor, I know it when I see it in a few examples with students and how they solve a fraction math problem.

Would I state that a student has an A since they can demonstrate an isolated instance of a fraction? Probably not. I would state it is C - a normal and average expectation for a child between 3rd and 5th Grade and it is based on the child's exposure to different ideas, the child's actual age and brain development as well as the ability of the student to use this basic concept.

If a student could apply the concept twice or 10 times, it is still a normal expectation. What would drive me to state a student earned an A is when I saw the student use this particular fraction concept to solve an explicit problem and explain logically why this was the issue at hand. Example: A student understands whether a pizza is cut in fourths or sixteenths, the whole pizza is the same amount and cutting it up depends on how many people you need to feed, not how much you need to feed people. Each person will have a different amount of hunger. Equitably we can feed eight people two slices and it may or may not ease their hunger. Mathematically though, we divvied up the pizza accurately and that earns an A grade.

Knowing/understanding a concept (past the phase of learning it) is the ability to use an idea in reality. It is the application of knowledge to a situation and solves a problem. Students spend a tremendous amount of time 'learning' with practice whether it is the algorithm of fractions or the mathematical calculation of fractions and then one day there is the ah-ha and the student has learned the meaning of fractional value.

By attributing an A grade to every practice situation, I would be indicating the student understood and could use a concept as opposed to stating the student is on point as every other normal student in developing the fraction concept.

When 'grades' are administered anecdotally, as I do in tutoring, I am able to give a parent the full picture of what their child knows and how they use the information. I have found my anecdotal information is far more valuable to understanding a child and what they know then an actual letter grade.

I prefer giving anecdotal information to parents as I can elucidate what I will do as a tutor to push a student over the edge from conceptual practice to ah-ha moment. Anecdotal information also allows parents to see a trending pattern of how their child's thinking is developing over time.

WyzAnt requires a minimum of 25 words for a lesson. In some situations this is sufficient and appropriate. In other situations, there is more complexity and my observations help a parent and/or teacher understand the underlying issue(s)preventing a student from learning successfully and achieving all the landmarks.

Make sure your tutor gives you what you need to support your child. Obtaining an A is not nearly the same as actually learning.