Changing Mindset

Making the case for learning skills

By Graham Vogt, Assistant head of School, Academics

Here is a discussion I love to facilitate: Learning Skills assessments on a “Report Card” are more important than number grades. Much, MUCH more important! Of course, the immediate urgency of a 12th Grade student highly focused on a post-secondary program of choice might indicate otherwise. Indeed, it is an unfortunate bi-product of most post-secondary admissions processes that students' mindsets are shifted away from growth, and an ongoing self assessment of learning, towards specific outcomes and grades. We certainly understand how important grades are to our highly-motivated students, and so we continually work to acknowledge the external pressures by balancing our approach and shifting focus whenever possible. It is the feedback of a Learning Skills assessment, not the number grade, that has the greater potential to draw students into a deeper understanding of tendencies, approaches, strengths and challenges. At RLC, we work to ensure success in future academic pursuits, and all aspects of life beyond. It is the intentional development of skills, and a deeper understanding of self, that best ensures this success. Chasing outcomes can often undermine that development.

For our Progress Reports, we intentionally omit grades as a way to better highlight Learning Skills. More powerfully, we engage each of our students in self reflection, borrowing from the enduring and powerful wisdom of John Dewey: “we do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.” This is not just a process of self assessment for the students; it is building the skill of openly receiving feedback to further develop approaches to learning by refining and building strategies. Therefore, the learning skills indicators do not represent judgments from teachers, but rather professional observations that provide opportunity for continued growth. Parents can support student growth by helping to draw students into a deeper understanding of each Learning Skill and the feedback provided by the teacher. The student reflection should indicate a student’s current sense of self. It may even provide a template into how to best support student growth. At the very least, it is an invitation to a greater learning-focused (as opposed to outcomes-focused) discussion.