On the weekend we attended a birthday party for our niece and I always find the conversations about school fascinating at family gatherings. We have nieces who are 10 and 7 and since our oldest is in senior kindergarten and really enjoying the play-based learning environment, I’m curious about the change she will experience when she enters primary and junior classrooms.

My 10 year old niece is in grade four and it is obvious that she experiences a lot of success in her traditional classroom. I say traditional as she seems to talk a lot about tests and projects that she and her classmates complete. I listened in on the conversation she had with her grandma about how school was going and cringed the entire time. She very obviously enjoys what she’s doing as she receives good grades, but it is so disappointing that what she is proud of is the grade and not the learning that occurred during the process. She was also able to explain to her grandma that a level 3 was like a B or a 75. Why does that matter to a 10 year old? Somewhere along the way, it has been reinforced that it’s the grade that counts and my guess is that school mostly to blame for that thinking.

She was especially proud of a cartoon she had to draw about how blood is pumped through the body by the heart. I appreciated that it wasn’t just a note that she had to write, but she was regurgitating content that she learned in class and that was what was evaluated. I’m not a science teacher, but I can imagine so many more things to do with that information rather than have them just produce a cartoon explaining the information. Besides, that is only the Knowledge category on the Achievement Chart. Where was the Application? Perhaps I’m being too hard and there is a plan for future learning, but my intuition tells me I’m on to something…

My niece is a pretty amazing kid (and yes I am biased) but what she didn’t highlight about herself in the conversation were her strong skills of imagination and interpersonal intelligence. Over the Christmas holidays we watched a video in which she wrote, directed, and starred. The video was thoughtful, funny, and engaging. She did it as a gift for the family which demonstrated her creativity and desire to connect with her audience. She has also been selected as a peer helper in her school. She spends various recesses with the primary students helping with conflict resolution as well as inclusivity. Those are the skills that I think are amazing and yet, she didn’t mention them at all. It was her mom that shared how she is working on this special conflict resolution team. I don’t think she even realizes the importance of those skills as they aren’t what earn her good grades…

The really sad part of this story is that she is not unique in this thinking. So many of our students have this thinking ingrained in them from a young age. It’s a culture change that needs to happen so that she and other young children don’t lose their creativity and innovative spirit.

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