Can Skateboarding Save Our Schools?

This week, I have had the privilege of spending two days at a Rick Wormeli differentiated instruction and assessment conference in Manchester, NH. Wormeli is a leading expert on grading reform and the need for standards-based grading and reporting systems. If you haven’t had the opportunity to hear him speak live, I strongly recommend it as an educator or as a parent. Wormeli has a unique ability to use humor to gain a sense of trust with his audience so that he can have the difficult conversation with them about why a major reform is needed in schools for grading practices.

One of many “pearls of wisdom” that I took away from my time with Wormeli was this video from Dr. Tae. The YouTube description of this video states this:

Dr. Tae is a skateboarder, videographer, scientist, and teacher. Contrasting his observations of his own learning while skateboarding with the reality that is the current education system, Dr. Tae provides some insight as to how we might better educate in the future.

Wormeli recommends this video as a great way to start a conversation with a faculty or with parents on the need for change in our schools.  Dr. Tae does a great job comparing his own learning of a difficult skateboarding trick, one that took him years to master, and how that learning is vastly different from the way our schools structure learning.

Having engaged in grading reform practices with my own school district in Southern New Hampshire, I can tell you that the hardest part is figuring out how to start the process. It can seem overwhelming to think about all the aspects (both the benefits and the side-effects) of a whole-system grade reform movement. The most daunting part is the fear of the unknown and the feeling as though you have to build a plan that will address every single scenario imaginable. Wormeli advises educators and schools to start small. Implement one small part of a grading reform plan as a pilot. Start at the classroom level and involve students and parents along the way in monitoring that pilot. I speak from experience when I tell you that he is right. Over a 2-3 year period our school slowly increased our pilot and added more to our grading reform movement. Change didn’t happen overnight but looking back three years later our reforms are still producing changes in teacher practice, in behavior, and in results. Not a day goes by that I am not convinced it was the right thing for us to do. We continue to grow and develop as a twenty first-century school community, but we have left our nineteenth-century grading practices behind us.


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