Assessing Ability

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” – Einstein

In my opinion these words, from a man who may well have experienced this during his own lifetime, should be on the pin up board In every teacher’s staff room. Acknowledging the ability of all students is essential as is the need to assess their ability in a manner consistent with who they are.

As teachers we are constantly charged with the task of judging the ability of our students. Einstein’s words are a stark reminder that to truly understand what a child is capable of means asking them to show you in a way that enables them to shine.

A dyslexic child will rarely be able to effectively demonstrate their true understanding of a topic in a paper and pencil test. Yet sit down with him or her and record the conversation you have about the topic, what a difference it could make. What gems you may uncover in that child’s mind.

A young boy frustrated by pencil grip and finding it uncomfortable to sit still in a chair may astound you with his knowledge of solar energy when instead of delivering a worksheet to complete you ask him to design and build a solar oven capable of melting a chocolate frog.

A girl unable to focus on the page in front of her because she is exhausted after representing the state in gymnastics all weekend may struggle to explain photosynthesis on the paper and pencil science test in front of her. Yet if you ask her to represent the process in dance I am sure you would be astounded.

There is certainly a place for the paper and pencil test but let’s not make education a one size fits all chain store dress. Instead let’s value the children sitting before us and work to ensure that each and every one of them has the opportunity to show what they are made of in a way that is true to who they are.


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