What do you think parents should/want to know regarding their child’s learning behaviors?

The question is, do parents care about a child’s learning behaviors or are they more concerned with “the grade”? After all, it’s not like colleges ask for an assessment on work ethic, honesty, and collaborative skills, etc.  Grades and test scores are primarily what get kids into universities.  So are grades more important than behavior? Or are learning behaviors just as important as grades?  This is a follow up to blogs posted March 28-30.

Speaking out in in a faculty meeting, a colleague challenged the group, “If we don’t emphasize learning behaviors then why are we here?  Otherwise the students can just sign up for Kahn Academy.  They don’t need school then”.  She has a point, right?  Part of our role as teachers is, indeed, to teach and foster good learning behaviors such as academic honesty, meeting deadlines, submitting work that not only demonstrates understanding but is neat and without technical errors, collaboration, working independently, and staying on task.  Simultaneous to fulfilling this role, we definitely need to teach skills and content, for example, in my case, the ability to carry out an investigation properly employing the scientific method and a knowledge of botany, genetics, human physiology, and ecology, to name a few. 

Ultimately, I personally believe that learning behaviors do count.  They are important. They might be indicative of the kind of university student the child will become and, if the behaviors remain consistent, they might hint at what type of employee this student might evolve into someday.  If learning behaviors are important, shouldn’t we be reporting on them to parents? Or should we only report on the achievement attained? 

If you think that behaviors should be reported on, then how do we report on it? 

I recall that when I took my babies to the doctor for growth check-ups and vaccinations, the doctor measured the head circumference, height, and weight of the child.  Additionally, assessments on reflexes and motor development were performed.  Questions were posed about cognitive advances.  We discussed all of these developmental elements separately.  It’s not like the doctor gave me one number to indicate my child’s physical maturation and mental progress.

Similarly, it makes sense to me that teachers should assess and report on learning behaviors and accomplishments of students separately.  When we include behavior in the grade (such as turning in assignments on time, neatness, collaborating, staying focused in class), we end up knowing nothing about either the learning behaviors or the actual achievements of the student.  For example, in the accompanying picture, the student submitted a beautiful piece of work.  The student additionally demonstrated focus and working well independently.  However, the proper content was completely missing from the poster, indicating that the standards of achievement had not been met.  Shouldn't there be a grade for the appearance of the poster and a separate grade for mastery of the expected content?  If the grade was an average of the student's behavior (neatness, working independently, being focused) AND the content, then the parents would not know that their child was not understanding the content.  Either including behavior in a grade artificially inflates or deflates the reporting of what the students actually knows.  I’m quite confident that in classrooms where behavior is averaged into the grade, the goodie-two-shoes have inflated grades while the rambunctious, energetic students have deflated grades.  Is that a fair indication of what these students have actually achieved? Does anyone care?

I had a discussion with a parent about this the other day and she replied,  “You see my kids benefit from grade inflation due to their good behavior so I don’t mind it.”  In the end, is it really “the grade” that solely matters to parents?  Do they have any interest in what their child understands and can do? 

Just this week I received emails from a set of parents in which they expressed concern about their child’s performance in classes.  However, the communications centered on the student’s learning behaviors.  One of the parents actually wrote the following, “One of my concerns is that John spends time doing his homework, but I’m not sure of the quality of the time spent.  To me this is all part of maturing as a student, and I’m not sure where John is on that journey yet…Please trust us when we say, that we do and will continue to hold John accountable for doing his work and developing the skills required for him to be successful as a student”.  PEFECT PARENT EMAIL.  I know these parents aren’t solely focused on the “grade”.  They really care about their child’s progress both in terms of mastering content and in terms of learning behavior.  Are there more of you out there?

How do you feel about assessing and reporting on learning behaviors separately from mastery of skills and content?