Sunday, November 27, 2011

You're Holding that Pencil Wrong!

I hesitated in writing this post as I don’t want to call anyone out or embarrass anyone. This story is true and happened to someone close to me and I felt sharing and reflecting on it. My friend’s oldest child is in kindergarten this year and recently got his son’s first report card sent home. Report cards are all different but this was a pretty standard kindergartner report card. It had a handful of skills in a column with the tried and true “S” for satisfactory or “D” for developing. One such skill was “pencil grasp” and his son received a “D” in this column.

Now, the grade was not the issue my friend initially had but rather confusion because his son holds his pencil as “normal” as anyone else. So, he waited to bring this up at his son’s parent teacher conference. At the conference he asked the teacher why his son received a “D” for his pencil grasp. Her reply, according to him was, “well, when I tested him, he held his pencil in a fist which is not correct.”

I am not here to defend the way a child holds his pencil but the fact that his grade was based on a one time “test” of pencil holding ability. Knowing this kid, I am sure he was just being a stinker at that moment of the test. In addition, I have personally witnessed this child hold and use his pencil in the “approved” manner. Yet, this teacher did not base his grade on what I would assume would be multiple days of in class observation. She had to have seen him write, color, and draw on countless occasions during the few months he had been in her class. His grade was based on a so called snapshot moment that clearly did not illustrate his abilities.

For me, there a few reasons I find this story problematic. First, I happen to know this was a first year teacher that was probably just doing what they were told. This is often the case in schools where new teachers are products of the environment rather than doing what is best for kids. Second, this is another illustrated example of why standard and district assessments are too often a snapshot and not the whole picture of a child. Yet, so much value is given to these assessments. Finally, this points to the problem with grades and how they often fail to articulate a child’s abilities. If you were an un-involved parent, you would see such a report card as my friend and assume there was a problem with your child.

In looking at lessons learned here…if you are a teacher don’t let a child’s grade be based on a snapshot. Do everything within your power to use grades and any other feedback you have to paint a clear picture of a child’s abilities. On the other side of things, if you are a parent like my friend, make sure you ask questions. Teachers can learn from parents as much as anybody and their perspectives are often underutilized. 
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