He’s sitting beside me. He’s only a freshman. It’s good that he’s a freshman, because, if he wasn’t, if he was like the eleventh or twelfth graders with whom I work at this time of year who are making the same decisions that he has, there would be little hope of him graduating with his class.
It is frightening to think about this: I can sit with a student, and look at his historical grades, at his past SOL scores (Virginia’s standardized tests – also known as The Standards of Learning), at his attendance and current grades, and, most importantly, his current behavior, and I can predict if a student will or will not graduate with his class. The most important aspect of all of this is the current behavior, of course.
Many people are upset about SOLs, and I understand, and, at times, I agree. There is a great amount of attention put to the time spent “teaching to the test.” Not all students need that. For most, they will pass the tests if there is time spent teaching towards them or not.
But for some, and this is why I like the SOLs, it is a major indicator of the level of skills they have, and whether or not they will graduate with their class – if they will graduate on time.
And this young man, who currently sits beside me, has only passed around three of all of the SOLs he has taken since third grade – a pretty good indication that concern is necessary.
So what can be done? He’s in ninth grade, and it’s a little too late — the schools have failed him.
Or have they?
With some other standardized scores -short assessments called Curriculum Based Measures (CBM), our school has seen that with some direct instruction in reading and writing, this child is quickly improving his skills. Because of the SOLs, we have scores to see that, although he has always struggled in some subjects, in other subjects, he has shown ability. And because of all of those scores, I can talk to him about the potential that he has, the goals he has set for himself, and the reality of the choices he is making, and could make.
But now, it comes down to him. It comes down to a simple question: what does he want?
Today, on NPR, there was a great article about how the marching band creates a future for some New Orleans students (At A New Orleans High School, Marching Band Is A Lifeline For Kids).
But in the article, when the guidance counselor begins talking about the challenges for these students, it rang true with me – especially when the narrator comments on how the counselor, a Harvard graduate, “recognizes the obstacles.” Initially, the obstacle that the counselor states is a lack of money, but as you listen, you also here that there is the obstacle of a needed mindset – a necessary grit – the “I can do this” attitude.
In this great one minute video, you can see what Mindset, as defined by Carol Dweck, is all about.
And this is what the kid sitting next to me needs. He needs to understand that he has the ability, but that ability doesn’t yield much without the work that is needed. I love when Eduardo Briceno, in his Tedx Talk, shares with us how Josh Waitzkin, the man who the movie Searching for Bobby Fischer is based on, said that the best thing that ever happened to him was losing.
Having a growth mindset is what allows us to get back up. It allows us to keep moving forward even in the face of great failure. It helps us to know that we can do it.
And that is what this young man needs now – this ninth grader.
I’m working with him, right now, on progress monitoring – on his tracking of how and when he pays attention. We took a break from that this week, and he only has one assignment. He has to answer one question:
What is he willing to do so that he can reach his goal?
His answer next week directs all of our work and reveals his mindset. What do you hope his answer will be?