Before you dump out that backpack…


summer backpack clean-out

For as long as I have worked in education, I have always heard from children at this time of year that they have had it with work. Most of them are more than ready to empty out their backpacks, desks, and lockers in a few weeks. Some have elaborate plans to shower papers down a stairwell or burn them in a backyard fire pit. For the most part it’s all in good fun and an opportunity to blow off some steam.

But, dear parents, before it gets time for the big paper purge, I have a task for you. There are a few things worth saving – not just as mementos, but as a record of your child’s learning.

If your child has had any academic difficulty this year, there is nothing more useful for tracking his or her progress than work samples. Ask your child to help you select a variety of assessments from throughout the year for each subject. Choose different formats too –presentations, quizzes, tests, papers– looking for assignments about which your child feels proud and assignments that your child would have liked to have done better on. This process of reflection alone can be important to a student’s growth; too often students of all ages look at the grade at the top of a paper and don’t learn from the feedback a teacher gave. The time spent reflecting often helps students to feel better about their academic progress too; they can see just how far they have come over the course of a year.

Not only are you helping your child to monitor the progress of his or her own learning, these papers are now a record that you can use in your communications with future teachers, tutors, and learning specialists. I’ve had many conversations with parents that start with “My child is having difficulty with this subject in school.” That’s a fine way to start talking with a tutor or teacher, and we have assessments we can use to further figure out where to target instruction. What is really useful, however, is when a parent can show work samples that are indicative of a child’s strengths and challenges. By looking over a few spelling tests, for example, I might know that I need to start reviewing long vowel sounds because a child can confidently spell out all consonant blends and digraphs. A record of past math work might tell me that a child has trouble with word problems or accuracy with math facts, but is not, as he might believe, just "bad at math." Portfolios of past work are some of the best diagnostics available.

Once you’ve safely tucked those work samples away, enjoy the great summertime purge along with your children. After all, the school year can be hard work for adults too.

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