Having argued that testing and grading actually hinders learning, I’d like to offer one alternative. How do we know our children are learning if we don’t test them? How do we motivate them to learn more without grades? How do we get out of the education-as-a-checklist rut, and start learning as if we were feasting?
Tracking and measuring our children’s education, like education in general, should be simple, fulfilling, and increase learning. It should not be complicated and stressful, motivated by fear and anxiety.
The student should be in charge, or involved as much as possible, of tracking her own progress.
Behold the humble list.
I almost feel silly saying this. It’s so simple and unexciting. And yet most people cannot wrap their minds around the fact that simple is usually more efficient and effective than complicated. You’re suggesting I make a list??? Seems too simple and too obvious to be effective. We continue to believe that higher quality must be more difficult to understand and implement. It must necessitate more busyness, more rigor, more stress, or technology to handle it for us. And so we contrive complicated curriculums and methods that drain all our energy and consume all our time, tricking ourselves into believing that we must be getting better results.
We use spreadsheets to track the books each child has read. Spreadsheets make it easy to add columns and rows, and sort your list by various parameters (alphabetical, chronological, subject etc.)
This is a 7-week, 56 book, excerpt of Jane’s booklist. To date she has read (or been read) over 2,000 books since age 5. Click on the image to view it full size:
A simple “X” in a column would suffice, but as you can see, we like to add more information where applicable.
We are feasting.
I started this list in a word processing program when my oldest daughter was 5. When she was 9 we switched to using spreadsheets (a separate one for each year), and she took over managing her own lists.
You could keep a list of anything, of course–places you’ve visited and experiences you’ve had–field trips, plays, art exhibits, museums, mentorships, etc.
Lists work magic in three ways:
1. Awareness. You will realize how much, how varied, and how in depth your children/students are learning, especially as you watch the list grow over years of tracking. Real books tend to be much more interdisciplinary–and interesting–than textbooks and instruction, so learning is more efficient and memorable. Over the years, your children will develop such a broad knowledge base, deep in many areas, that it will come close to rendering the curriculum obsolete.
2. Powerful Motivator. The list itself, without any outside incentives for number of books read, etc, acts as a powerful motivator to add more items to the list. And when there is no outside incentive for reaching a certain number, the list maker is very particular about which items are *worthy* of the list. I will never forget what Jane said around the time she took over managing her list at age 9. She looked at all the books she had read, or we had read together, since she was 5 years old. Her eyes grew wide.
“I can’t believe I’ve read that many books,” she marveled. She thought a moment. “I want to read 300 books in one year, by my tenth birthday,” she said very seriously and resolutely.
“Baby books” certainly didn’t count.
She achieved her goal of 300 books before her tenth birthday, so she set, and achieved, another goal to read 50 more.
The next year she made a sub-goal of reading a certain number of classics and Newbery Award winners/honors.
3. Remember. Jane often looks back at books she’s read so far this year, or read in years past. It is exciting to see how much she’s learned and accomplished, and the results of her dedication and persistence. It reminds her of the stories she loves and what she’s learned. It is a keepsake she can print and put in a memory book.
Some day she will be reading to her own children. I imagine she’ll pull out that list and memories of being read to by her own mother will come flooding back to her.
She’ll pull one of those books off the shelf.
“This is the tale of a rabbit named Peter,” she’ll say, with her daughter on her lap. New memories of reading with her own children will begin forming.
And she’ll see the story with new eyes.