Ban the average. Design to the edges. Nurture talent.

Most days, at some point in the day, I am prompted to think about a Sir Ken Robinson quote that goes basically like this:

School should concentrate on identifying “How are you smart?” instead of concentrating on “How smart are you?”

This morning, as I watched Todd Rose’s TEDxSonomaCounty talk “The Myth of Average,” I was again reminded of Sir Ken’s challenge to all of us school people. As Rose detailed a U.S. Air Force issue and used it as an entry analogy for school, I pictured, among other things, the traditional school report card, filled with subject-area course titles and numerical averages listed to the right of each.

I am increasingly uncomfortable with that progress monitoring construct. At the very least, shouldn’t our progress reports disaggregate the averages and make visible the essential criteria, traits, and characteristics that we say we hold dear in a person’s learning and schooling. If content knowledge or mastery is a critical component in one’s school, then by all means report on it. But don’t skew the report by boiling together all of the dials and gauges that belong as separate meters on the proverbial dashboard. If work ethic, as represented by certain observable traits, is a critical component, then give it it’s own dial on the dashboard. And let the previously mentioned content knowledge component be a truer indicator of that unencumbered domain. And if classroom participation and collaboration are critical components, then allow them to be visible well beyond wondering what that “Math….88” means, in all it’s jumbled complexity, on a semi-annual report card that may have actually outlived its usefulness, given our more modern means of communication, digital exchange, and 2.0 capabilities.

Yesterday, I was privileged to be in a professional learning session with Jeff Moore of Moore Leadership and the Striver Quotient. Moore explained that Strivers feel an almost continuous sense of “incompleteness” – that they find it reasonable to be in an “uncomfort zone” as they strive to make things better and to make themselves better. Also, yesterday, I was blessed to be a part of the Innovation Diploma team as they worked through their Gallup Strengths Finder results, as individuals and the collective team (see here and here), with Ed Psychologist and Strengths Coach Elizabeth Payne.

Those threads of striving and building strengths are wonderfully tangling together for me with Sir Ken’s quote, Todd Rose’s ban-the-average-and-design-to-the-edges message, and my near 40-year history with the traditional report card. What if we designed progress monitoring systems – whole, coherent systems – that more fully demonstrated what we value in learners and want to make visible for further striving and strengths finding?

Moore also shared that Strivers are motivated by a purpose that transcends winning. Well, I’d love to work the progress monitoring system with a team of other strivers who see the immediate and critical need to ban the average and design to the edges – for the benefit of helping all of our learners see more fully how they are smart, rather than worrying about how smart they are.

A 21st century framework for designing student success and demonstrating student mastery requires Mount Vernon to develop a [v]igorous, relevant, and innovative learning and assessment map for each student…. (from Mount Vernon Presbyterian School’s (i)Plan17)

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Hat tip to Lawrence Smith, at St. Paul’s School, for sending me the Todd Rose TEDx talk and sparking this morning’s reflective writing for me.

3 thoughts on “Ban the average. Design to the edges. Nurture talent.

  1. Thanks for sharing your thinking, Bo- grading and reporting is a topic near & dear to my heart, and in so many ways I could not agree more with you. I’ll plan on dropping some of the posts around the practices of disaggregating the averaged grades (which frankly mean little to nothing when all lumped together) in order to see understanding & provide kids with feedback. And it certainly sounds like the Ted Rose TED Talk is a “must see”. Short version: if you’re looking for more strivers, you’ve got one right here.

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