Should we be celebrating this 1950’s example?

A couple of nights ago, my previous principal, Gerry Smith, sent me this tweet.

I replied with,

Here’s my post.

This article left me with many conflicted feelings. On one hand, I love the fact that “learning” is about more than just reading, writing, and math. There are many developmentally appropriate skills included in the 1950’s report card, and in various subject areas. I know that this article is an American one, and the amount of standardized testing that happens in the States — in all subject areas — far outweighs what happens in Canadian provinces. But all of that being said, I don’t know that we want our 2017 report card to closely resemble this 1950’s one.  

Here are my concerns that resulted in a need for some deep breathing. 

  • By listing such a specific set of skills, do we avoid going deeper and encouraging richer thinking by our students?
  • Does this report card take into consideration the range of students that may be in a Kindergarten classroom?
  • If students are ready to do more, should they be encouraged to do so, and with this kind of report card, does that happen? 
  • Are all of the skills listed in this report card ones that students have control over (e.g., coming to school clean)? Who are we really evaluating here?
  • By creating a checklist of skills, how do we really personalize the feedback and provide specific next steps for growth?
  • Does this checklist only highlight/support/encourage low-level learning? 
  • What about the students that “can’t” do what’s on this “can” list? How are we supporting them?

I think that Ontario’s Kindergarten Program Document addresses these concerns by truly creating a document and a Communication of Learning, which put students at the centre of learning. Each child is seen differently and viewed through an asset lens. It’s our Program Document that really supports play-based learning. 

While I may agree with the conclusion in this report card article, I worry about this conclusion being made based on this 1950’s report card example. If we look to this as closer to our new ideal, what does this mean about the type of environment that we’re creating for our students? Is this the best kind of environment that we could give them? I definitely stand behind developmentally appropriate practices and the value of learning through play, but I think that there’s still a ways to go from this 1950’s exampleWhat about you?


10 thoughts on “Should we be celebrating this 1950’s example?

  1. Aviva,
    You are amazing. I really like some of the items here, but the part that jumped out at me was the “carry my chair the right way”. Is there a right way? Only one?

    I think a kindergarten teacher from 1954 would probably see great value in much of what you do, and I think there would be reciprocal admiration.

    I am so happy that our kindergarten program has veered away from the American model.

    • Thanks Lisa! I liked the chair item too. I think that there may be some safer vs. more dangerous ways to carry a chair (not over your head perhaps), but you’re right: more than one way could be good. Times have certainly changed since the 1950’s, and it makes sense that the K Program Document does as well. I’m certainly happy that our Kindergarten Program does not include a ton of standardized tests, and while I do question some of the items on this Report Card List, I bet the program actually involved much more than what’s captured here.

      Thanks for your kind words and for extending this discussion. Now the question becomes, what did learning look like in the other grades in the 1950’s, and what impact might/could/should this have on learning today?


      • That’s a really interesting question. I know, from talking with my grandpatents, who taught in that time period, that there was a major focus on rote learning. I also remember a story my mom tells (this would have happened in about 1949) where she, in Grade 1, was taken on tour to older classrooms to show off her fabulous reading of “Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel” (which she had memorized, of course). No reports are available on how the older kids felt about the experience.

        • So interesting, Lisa! I can see this focus on rote learning, even in the Kindergarten report card list of expectations. I wonder if a growth in technology and access to the Internet inspired a change in moving beyond just rote learning. That said, I wonder how many educators still value — and even spend the most time — on this rote learning. Could each of our own school experiences inspire how we then teach others? I’d love to know what students during this time thought about this approach. Thanks Lisa for pushing my own thinking on this topic with your great comments!


          • Oh, don’t get me started on how our own school experiences influence how we teach. I think one of the biggest roadblocks to changing the system is that, unless we were very lucky (and I was, at times), we have never really seen or experienced another system. Huge, huge, huge shoutout from me to Ingrid Clarke, Murray Young and the amazing English/history crew at South Secondary school in London. Much of the best teaching I do, I do with the tools they gave me. I read Howard Zinn in Grade 13, for heaven’s sake….and took integrated Canadian studies with the teachers who built the curriculum. I feel so lucky to have been a student through the late 70’s/early 80’s when change was afoot.

            When every classroom you learned in was structured the same way, it’s cognitively hard, I think, to see a classroom in a different way.

          • Thanks Lisa! You sound incredibly lucky to have had these amazing role models. I’m trying to figure out how my schooling experiences make sense then. I had many teachers that I loved that definitely took the time to connect with me and showed me the need for “relationships first.” Another post perhaps. But as far as I can recall, all of my schooling involved more “traditional teaching and learning.” I taught for many years following this kind of model too. I think it was when I chose to enter an “adult open classroom” through the sharing that happens online, creative colleagues that took me under their wing, and administrators, program consultants, and system support people that co-taught with me, asked hard questions (Kristi (@kkeerybi) I love you for this), and showed me other ways, that I started to change. Maybe the bigger, harder question is, how do we get comfortable with adopting a learning stance (especially when the learning we’re doing may be so contrary to our educational experiences)? This can and does become a “cognitive stressor” as you made me think of at the end of your comment. Thinking about Stuart Shanker’s work then, could the answer to this question lie in the need for some Self-Reg? Thank you, Lisa, for helping me write a far better blog post through this discussion!


  2. Hmmm…we always seem to come back to that, don’t we? I think the self/co-reg discussion is at the heart of much of what we need to talk about when we talk about a functioning classroom space, for all the learners.

    The idea of the cognitive load increase also leads me into thinking about my ongoing guiding question : how do we teach it if we’re not doing it ourselves….

    • I really think this self/co-regulation piece is at the heart of so much that we do in the classroom (and in life). Your comment connected to cognitive stressors made me wonder if we can figure out a way to respond to these stressors (a Self-Reg option that works for us), will we start to see more changes in education? Your second question reminds me again of Shanker’s work and our need to look at our own Self-Reg. I think this holds true across the different domains, with the cognitive being a part of that. It’s funny as when I wrote this post intially, I wasn’t thinking about self-regulation, and now, thanks to your comments, I can’t stop thinking about it. Thanks for taking my thinking in a whole new direction!


      • Thanks for the great conversation. Shifting thinking around assessment, classroom design, and classroom management (because I think that’s all wrapped up in that report card) and the relationships and mutual regulation within our buildings is always worth exploring with others!

        • And with that, Lisa, I think all I can say is, “I totally agree.” Thanks for a wonderful conversation that took me to way more places than I ever would have imagined. You made this post better!


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