How can we gauge children’s future potential to learn, and thus succeed? How can we help to ensure that our children will be happy? And how does one foster the “passion for life-long learning” that is central to our mission? These questions, as well as emerging research on learning, are behind D-E’s new traits-centered initiative.
Dwight-Englewood’s Mission Statement articulates qualities we hope to instill in students and capacities we hope to help them develop. A new initiative—the result of a two-year study by D-E faculty and administrators about grading, assessments, and how to best provide children and their parents with appropriate feedback—crystallizes a culture of teaching and learning that is fully consistent with our mission.
The “eight traits” initiative identifies the qualities that the School considers vital to a child’s success and that teachers will use in their assessments:
- Risk Taking
- Critical Thinking [shown above being employed by Upper School students who are being attentive to their notes on past research in an Integrated Biology and Chemistry class with faculty member Helen Stott ’06.]
- Daily Preparation
D-E faculty members will focus on these eight traits when they work with students and provide feedback on the ways in which a student might do his or her best. These eight traits will also rest at the core of student comments that D-E faculty will write to students, and which parents will read and discuss with their children.
In a letter to parents about the traits initiative, Head of School Dr. Rodney De Jarnett explained, “Such traits are critical to our children’s success if we want them to achieve those important initial hopes and dreams we had for them when they were first born! So it is exciting to know that the most recent findings from research on teaching and learning support the notions that these same traits form the foundation for success in school and in life.”
Informed by Research and Assessment Tools
One tool that Dwight-Englewood has been using to explore student qualities and student success is the Mission Skills Assessment (MSA), which was developed by the nonprofit Independent School Data Exchange. MSA gives schools a methodology to assess whether their curriculums are meeting the goals stated in their missions.
This year the MSA was given to more than 13,000 independent middle school students around the United States, a robust assessment that incorporates three different measurements to triangulate methodologies and provide more confidence in the results. The traits measured by MSA are similar to the traits described by Paul Tough in his best-selling book How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character. MSA provides each school not with individual student results but rather a “cohort” score for schools to use to improve programs overall.
The College and Work Readiness Assessment (CWRA), another innovative tool, was developed to assess undergraduates’ improvement in critical thinking skills. The CWRA can track such improvement and inform a school if its program fulfills its mission. Both the MSA and CWRA are being administered to D-E students at specific points in their Middle and Upper School careers.
Fostering a Growth Mindset
A traits-centric assessment that looks for such qualities as perseverance and risk taking relates also to the success-related work of Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck. In her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Dweck explains that students must be taught a growth mindset that is more focused on process, rather than a fixed mindset that values only the product.