Serious question to all you parents out there: What are your kids really learning in school? I don’t mean what grades are they getting. I mean what are they really learning? What’s sticking with them that they will actually use in their day to day lives to become more successful or more fulfilled as they grow older?
My answer to that question comes from reflecting on the combined 22 years of schooling my own kids have had. Sure, they’re learning how to read and to write. Their learning some tidbits about history and science and math and other things that may stick with them into adulthood. But more, they’re learning how to figure out what each teacher wants, how to team study with their friends to prepare for tests, how to read the very least they can in order to get a good class participation grade, and how to talk to members of the opposite sex, just to name a few.
It’s funny, but when I dive into the “Parent Portal!” (to be read with a loud, deep, echoing voice), that stuff doesn’t seem to be noted there. I can see that Tucker got a 19/20 on his “Molarity and Solutions Lab” in Chemistry (I think I got a 17/20…), but only a 40.2/50 on his “Argument Unit-Multiple Choice” in AP Lang. There’s nothing in there about talking to girls.
And, shocking as it may sound, Tucker really doesn’t share much with us about what he’s “learning” in school. (Adolescence, I know.) He doesn’t seem to be making or creating much in school. Nor has he (ever) been out in the community doing work that he can point to when we drive by it and say “I did that!”
So, I’m left with 17/20 and 40.2, which tell me literally nothing about what he’s learned in a curricular sense. Zero. Nada. (Hopefully, he learned how to do better on the next multiple choice quiz.)
Maybe it’s me. Maybe I’m a bad parent. Maybe I should try harder to get him to report out all that he’s learned in class. Maybe I should be calling his teachers on a regular basis and ask what that 40.2 really means in a learning sense. And even more, maybe I should be calling them and asking what they mean by “learning” in the first place. I mean, what would he get on his “Molarity and Solutions Lab” two years from now were he to conduct it again?
Point is, I don’t think parents in general have much of a clue at all what their kids are “learning” in school, and to be honest, I think that’s just the way schools like it. The less info on that the better. It’s just less complicated. And parents are complicit in this, right? I mean what parent wants to admit that, just like themselves, their kids are really “learning” very little of the curriculum for the long term, and that the real learning is the stuff that doesn’t end up on the report card? That what they really care about, more than anything else, is the grade?
Since there’s no room in the parent portal for more than just numbers, I’m not expecting this to change any time soon…
(A bit of a riff on this piece by John Warner.)
(Image credit: Ryan Tauss)
Gerald Aungst says
My youngest son who is in high school talks mostly about the extracurriculars. He is a musician and is involved with multiple instrumental groups at school. He talks about the music he’s playing and what he likes or doesn’t like about it. He talks about the competitions and concerts and what he learns about working and playing together with a group. He talks about the experiences he has and the relationships he’s building with friends and teachers.
He also talks about what he’s building in his engineering class (taught by the teachers who used to teach “shop”). He came home with a multicolored block puzzle that he designed and 3-D printed, and he was excited to watch me try to solve it, then he was curious because the solution I finally came up with (after several hours of work) was different than the one he designed, which fostered a short but interesting conversation about the thinking process behind the puzzle.
I also have two in college. They do talk about what they’re learning in their courses. But of course they’ve had the luxury of choosing majors that align with their passions and interests, so what they’re learning is connected there.
One thing we never talk about at home, ever, is the numbers in the Parent Portal. Funny thing….
In our school, our parents have accounts to the same “Portal” resources, materials, and assignments that the students do and they can read the messages teachers post, view upcoming tests, quizzes, and events, and even go through the discussion board, resources, etc. They have full access to almost everything. This is separate from the grades that they can view whenever they choose.
It is great that parents have the ability to see what is going on and I like the transparency, however at some point parents need to let go and allow their children to succeed and fail on their own. If parents become too involved, how will these children succeed in college when Mom and/or Dad are hundreds or thousands of miles away? What will happen when these children get a job and Mom and Dad aren’t there to check up on them and ask them if they met their deadline?
Lisa Noble says
I, too, am the parent of a high school kid who is thriving on his extra-curriculars – two bands, student council, A/V team, trivia team, ultimate frisbee. He’s busier than anybody should be, and it’s at least partly because his classes are not feeding him in the way his extra currics do. When he comes home, he’ll sometimes share a story – but it’s often about how much he’s enjoyed a practice.
Your line about “I did that” really resonated with me. My son works lights and sound for a local theatre company as a volunteer. That’s his “I did that” moment – but it doesn’t come through school. Same thing as my younger son, who went with me last night to help paint fish on storm drains to remind people to keep them clean – we totally made a difference in our community, but it wasn’t through school.
There’s a reframing that desperately needs to happen for parents (and teachers – and I’m one of those, too)
People are comfortable with the status quo – but that doesn’t make it right.
It’s a bit different for my middle schoolers. They’re students in an fully online charter school. As their ‘learning coach’ , (yes, that’s the term), their mother has more opportunity than most parents to see what they’re doing.
Virtual schooling does not lend itself to making things, so we’ve had to create those opportunities. In order to get their school to organize a Science Olympiad team, my wife and I ended up coaching it, despite the fact that neither one of us has a science background. My son co-constructed a Rube Goldberg machine and my daughter was in the technical writing event.
Like Lisa’s son, both my kids also do theater. My daughter does lots of tech, while my son has gotten cast in several shows (competition is much less fierce among boys, although they are both very tall for their age.) Both of them participate in speech and debate and scouting, and my son also studies organ.
Most of what I know about my kids learning comes from the co-curriculars, in part because, with the exception of the science, we have steered them towards things where we can actually coach them. I have music degrees and have done some college and community theater, and both my wife and I did speech and debate. Doing it this way has also allowed our kids to do “real” things a couple of years sooner than a traditional school model would have. However, it all takes a significant investment of time, effort, and money. Even though my wife does most of the day to day of it, I wonder how long we can keep this up before _I_ burn out.
Amen and Amen!!
It’s really fun when you have no parent portal and a non-sharing kid. I know nothing (Jon Snow)
Chris Bigum says
It’s pretty simple. They are learning how to play the game called school. Some years ago I asked my 2nd eldest daughter what school was like. Her reply: “Well, you do these subjects which are like being put in a maze and you have to find the cheese. Then when you eventually find the cheese you discover the cheese is fake and your reward for finding the cheese is to be put into another maze”.
Meg Taylor says
You inspired my blog post, Will: http://parkerperspectives.blogspot.com/2016/05/what-are-kids-learning.html
Do we really need to report to parents what the kids are learning? Parents are too much in their business anyway! (according to the kids…)
Will Richardson says
Awesome! Love it when these questions beget more questions. Thanks for reading and thinking!
Aaron Davis says
Parental communication is such an interesting topic. We talk about school being engaging whatever that might mean, but I wonder how often we actually make it engaging for parents? http://readwriterespond.com/?p=765
My daughter actually started school this year. Intereatingly, her class has a Facebook page documenting the learning process. This has been really interesting.
Lisa Noble says
The kindergarten parents in my building are probably among the best informed. The teachers I work with choose to use a tool that allows them to post pictures, recordings of student`s process thinking and lots of kindergarten fun, in general. If we can build that kind of parent communication climate, beginning in kindergarten, and not have it disappear (from either end of the equation) as our kids get older, I’m hping that can start to change the dynamic.
Will Richardson says
The fact is, however, that the older kids get, the less that kind of transparent learning is sustained in classrooms. It’s too bad, because older kids can obviously do some really great work as well. I hope you can change that Lisa.
Christo Hauser says
Impressed by how quickly commenters note this touches on both the positive and negative sides of parental involvement.
I teach elementary engineering and try to send my kids home with their drawings as often as possible. We practice explaining with words before drawing, so I have a pretty good idea their parents will ‘get it.’
Joe Weeder says
I love your “I did that!” part of this article. I think that small, little piece is very powerful and should spark a lot of conversations among parents and their students.
Perhaps kids don’t have enough of those opportunities in their young lives; something they can sit back and look at, admire the process, and be proud of something they created.
Will, if your son isn’t being fulfilled with school, why don’t you take him out?