Educational experts talk about growth and data and the need to create a growth mindset in children. But data is what is driving that mindset. I can be a data junkie myself. Even from my first few years as a teacher, I loved item analysis, identifying whole and small group needs by creating conditionally formatted cells in a spread sheet. I could show said spreadsheet to another teacher in order to impress upon them, “Look, look at how sophisticated I am, how in touch I am with the strengths and needs of my students.” But kids aren’t just numbers or trending up-tics. They are complex, multi-dimensional still-forming beings whose FM tuner is mainly dialed to what’s right in front of them and can’t handle all the other white noise and signals of the larger and “more important” world around or ahead of them.
Today a student of mine, struggled and fought through her way to finish her science fair project. She is an English language learner and at the beginning of this year she would never talk, struggled to write and cringed any time math was mentioned. To see her today would be like seeing some before and after picture on a makeover show, but in her intellectual and socio-emotional self. She now offers answers, begins working on her own work, right away, without furtive glances to the others around her. This girl, who has little help at home because her mom and dad work hard all hours of the day, whose favorite meal is alphabet soup, who is one of the few that actually reaches out for help and who is always the first to help out another student in any way she can, whose peers continue to recognize and celebrate as she grows in voice, confidence and ability, battled her way to finish a science fair project, then at the end of the day took a test to benchmark how her intervention was going. I should’ve stopped it. I should’ve told the interventionist, but it’s two days from break and my own brain was frazzled from getting the class prepared for the fair. I should’ve said no.
I walked into the interventionist’s office to see how she had done. I was happy because the students had done such a wonderful job completing and owning their experiments. She was not. She had tears in her eyes and a look that only a teacher who remembered those times of no self-esteem, being lost, and hiding. She hadn’t gotten a number to show growth.
In what spreadsheet do I enter how the strength of her voice has grown, in what data table do I show the increase in her engagement and willingness to tackle new learning? In what box can I check that she didn’t think about college and career readiness but now is exhibiting those intangibles: perseverance, resourcefulness, and confidence?
Oftentimes plants are used to symbolize the growth of a learner. We talk about blooming and branching out. What my student has done this year is to grow roots. See, before she was just sprouting and had no roots to keep her from blowing over or being yanked from the ground. So she hid. Slowly, though, her roots began to spread and fasten themselves deeper into the soil. What you can “see” the score that was produced by one test, might seem as if there was no growth, but not everyone can see that what grew is what is going to help her grow tall and strong. Those roots are unquantifiable.
She shouldn’t’ve taken that test today. I should’ve said no.