Magazine article AMLE Magazine

Don't Label Your Box

Magazine article AMLE Magazine

Don't Label Your Box

Article excerpt

Staff members at Milan Middle School last year were asked to bring in a picture of themselves from middle school to display along with the message, "It's not about who you were, it's who you are that determines who you will be."

We wanted to show our students who we were as children and show them that there is, indeed, hope for their future. It also took each of us on a trip down memory lane as we pored through old photo albums. As I flipped through one of my albums, I stumbled upon a picture of me at age 12 sitting in a large cardboard box.

I grew up in a Navy family and we relocated quite often. In fact, by the time I graduated from high school, I had attended 16 different schools. Consequently, I spent a great deal of my childhood packing and unpacking. The photo was taken soon after one of our many moves. I had spent a month surviving with only the items that could fit into one suitcase. My belongings had just arrived: all my clothes, toys, books, sports equipment-everything.

When my parents came into my room to take this picture, I'm sure they assumed I would be playing in a huge pile of toys. Instead they found me seated inside a large box wearing sunglasses and a hat turned backwards. I had transformed one of the packing boxes into a fighter jet. I was the pilot.

What the picture did not show was that the next day I converted that same box into a race car, and the day after that I transformed it into King Tut's tomb. That box, which had been neatly identified with a permanent marker, "Dave's Toys," sparked hours of creative fun. My imagination had turned the box into so much more.

So what does this have to do with teaching and learning?

Putting Ourselves in Boxes

My picture illustrates what I believe is a great metaphor for what is and is not working in our schools today. In education today, we are constantly looking for the perfect answer for student engagement, student learning, student inquiry, student assessment. Unfortunately, we think one initiative, one tool, one pre-packaged/pre-labeled program is going to be the answer. We try to find a script to follow; we forget we have kids to reach and are frustrated when we don't get the intended results. What we do is place ourselves in a box, slap a label on it, and lose our creativity.

A prime example is the work being done with assessment. For the past 10 years, countless "experts" have used the terms formative and summative assessment to describe how we should evaluate student learning. Formative assessments monitor student learning and assess the teachers' instructional strategies. Summative assessments evaluate student learning at the end of a unit. Teachers place these two kinds of assessments into two separate boxes, label them, and use them only for their predesignated purposes.

Don't get me wrong-formative and summative assessments are crucial components of high-quality teaching. At Milan Middle School we spent the past four years talking about little else. But what we lose sight of is the fact that the best assessments serve both purposes, not one exclusively. Placing a label on an assessment prior to using it is unnecessarily restricting.

Teachers should be able to use an assessment formatively and summatively, applying a label only after it has been used. If we label it summative before we use it, and do not get the intended results, does this mean a teacher should not adjust his or her instruction? …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.