I apologize for using a rather trite metaphor for the title of this blog, particularly since I never really cared for the dot-to-dot pages that would occasionally appear in my coloring books as a child. I never saw the purpose. I could tell what the picture was going to be and I didn’t need to scour the page to find the next number to make it appear.
As an educator the idea of connecting things has become much more profound to me. Watching the students in my English classes make connections between what we were reading and what was happening in the world were some of my favorite teacher moments. The flip side of that was also enlightening to me. As a principal of a school with many different academic support programs for students I remember a conversation with a student who told me that she didn’t “do reading” when she went to a classroom to work with a teacher who was supporting English Learners, even though I had just been in that room and seen a lesson that was explicitly planned to connect to the general education classroom. The student didn’t see the connection and that was the problem.
One of my favorite things about the visual assessment tenets framework is the fact that it really emphasizes the connections that are inherent with good assessment practices. Assessment should not happen separately from instruction; it should inform with and strengthen instruction. We should strengthen student investment through being clear about the purpose of assessment and accurately sharing the information gained. These practices are knit together with intention and clarity of purpose and that should be shared with all stakeholders.
I believe that our educators are connecting the dots of best practices better than we ever have before. I think we can continue to grow in our efforts to make those connections clear to students of all ages. It is not enough for us to see and understand the links; we need to make sure that our students do, too. Writing a learning goal on a board at the front of the room isn’t the same as a quick conversation about what that goal is, what success looks like, and how we will get there. I know some of you may say that we do not have time. I would counter that you’re taking the time now but without the transparency of telling the students about it. If your target requires students to do some exploratory learning, then make those connections at the end of the lesson. Either way, providing ways for students to engage in self-assessment and self-regulation strengthens their learning. Making targets and success criteria a mystery does not make the learning more rigorous.
The word “connect” is my word of the year and I am currently wearing it on a bracelet on my wrist. It came from the idea that, now more than ever, we need to make sure that all of us see how things connect. Nothing in our world feels connected like it has in the past. I miss seeing my friends and colleagues in 3-D rather than just on a screen. I’m grateful for the screen, but I do miss those formal and informal connections with people. Jim Knight (2016) talks about connecting with people by being fully present. I am trying to find ways to be fully present in my interactions with people, in whatever form those interactions take, to help strengthen my connections with them and the connections between ideas that we are trying to implement.
We know the things that make a difference for students and their learning. The connections between those things and the connections between each other take a bit more work than the dot-to-dot pages in a coloring book. Let’s make sure that our colleagues and our students see the relationships between those things in the very same way we do.
Erkens, C., Schimmer, T., Dimich, N., & Vagle, N. Essential assessment: Six tenets for bringing hope, efficacy, and achievement to the classroom. 2017. Solution Tree Press.
Knight, J. Better conversations: Coaching ourselves and each other to be more credible, caring, and connected. 2016. Corwin Press.