How do you know what your students have learned? When do you know it?
We can give them tests to find out if they learned the answers to the questions we decide to put on the test. They can write essays, and we will know--among other things--if they know how to write essays. We can give quizzes and find out, sometimes, if they guessed correctly.
I'm not saying we shouldn't assess students' learning through quizzes, tests and essays, although sometimes those tools seems designed as "gotchas" or they show more about what students have learned along the way--e.g., how to structure an essay that receives an A--than what they have learned with us, in one semester, those short 15 weeks.
What I am saying is that we can also give students some control. Some voice. Let's just ask them!
One day this semester, I asked my "Spanish in the Community" students two questions:
- What have you learned through your work in the community so far?
- What more would you like to learn?
Here are their answers.
What have you learned?
- Spanish-speaking immigrants in our community deal with very difficult things: for example, a woman came to the office who husband had been detained and she knew nothing more than that.
- You can be detained for something very simple, like a traffic stop.
- The small things that lead to big things (like detention) have huge ripple effects on the entire family.
- What dual language education is and that these programs exist in Champaign-Urbana.
- Many of the students in school have problems in their lives outside of school. For example, they are thinking about money, like not having enough money to own a pet.
- The Refugee Center does so much for the local community, and they learn that from their conversations with the people who work at the Center.
- By working at Crisis Nursery, they have understood more about the problem of domestic violence in the local Latino community.
What do you want to learn?
- What are all the services the Refugee Center offers? I want to learn that so that I can help even more when I work there.
- What do students in the dual language programs do after grade school? Do these programs exist in middle school and high school?
- What is it like for non-native Spanish-speaking students in the dual language program?
- How do children (not adolescents/adults) actually learn a second language?
- What Spanish (vocabulary, grammar) do I need to know to be able to be of even more help?
My job is to put this into a larger context. To deepen/broaden what they have already learned.
And although some of the things they mentioned might seem obvious to professors, if they said that they learned these things, that means that they did not know them before. They aren't learning these things in other classes. I emphasize this because we often take for granted that the "little" things don't really matter, aren't really academic or intellectual. But if students don't have this base, what is theory attached to? What foundation do the high-level analyses rest upon?