An Independent School • Grades 5-12
Updates to Middle School markers for student growth
Updates to Middle School markers for student growth

by Elaine Christensen, Middle School director

At the end of each marking period, Middle School faculty provide families with information about how their student is doing in the form of narrative comments, grades (for 7th and 8th graders), and "markers for student growth." The combined feedback is substantive and designed to help students as they grow and learn. While most families are familiar with comments and grades, the purpose of the markers may be less well-known; they reflect the skills, mindsets, and habits of mind necessary for success at Lakeside Middle School. I'm excited to announce some changes to how we have updated our markers for student growth, based on educational research and best practices.

Last year, Lakeside worked with Challenge Success, a research-based organization associated with the Stanford Graduate School of Education. They work with schools and families to provide students with the academic, social, and emotional skills needed to succeed now and in the future. Much of their work is informed by the idea of the growth mindset - something of critical importance during adolescence. As described by psychologist Carol Dweck, a person with a growth mindset believes that "abilities and intelligence are malleable and are influenced by the amount of effort we exert," whereas people with fixed mindsets believe "that a person is born with a certain set of abilities and intelligence, and there is not much you can do to change what you've been given."

What does this look like in real life? A student with a fixed mindset might say, "I am bad at math," or, "I have never been good at keeping track of things." A person with a growth mindset might say "Math is hard, but I'm going to identify what I need to work on and keep trying," or "I'm going to talk to people in the Brain and Learning Lab about how to use my planner." By developing a growth mindset, students start to see challenges as opportunities to grow, instead of pigeonholing themselves into an identity or belief about their intelligence.

Educators and parents and guardians can help students cultivate a growth mindset. How do you coach growth mindset? By kindly and consistently giving students feedback on areas for growth. This concept is inspiring to teachers at our school.

Working with Challenge Success inspired our Middle School faculty to find more opportunities to cultivate a growth mindset in our students. We zeroed in on the markers for student growth as the most effective mechanism for this work. After many meetings, we have made the following changes.

  • We refined the existing markers to be more precise and to connect with Lakeside's mission and the skills and mindsets we think are needed in the 21st century. The new markers are: comes prepared to class; demonstrates engagement; exercises self-advocacy; manages time effectively; shows consideration for others; shows understanding of course material; and works effectively with others. In addition, each academic department will add two markers specific to their discipline. For example, a history-specific marker is "demonstrates effective research skills," and a language-specific marker is "demonstrates oral proficiency."
  • How we assess each marker will change. In the past, students could receive one of four allocations: E (exceeds expectations); M (meets expectations); N (needs improvement; or S (significant improvement needed). Going forward, students will receive either an M (meets expectations) or an AG (area for growth). And every student will receive at least one AG in every class in every marking period. Teachers will address and elaborate on the area for growth in their narrative comment (along with the student's strengths and current work), providing students and families with specific information about how this area for growth manifests itself for the student and what the student can do to continue developing in this area.

Teachers are currently sharing this information with their students and advisees, and the new markers will appear on the fall midterm reports. You will hear more about this at Back-to-School Night on Thursday Sept. 27, and I will send more information in the lead-up to the fall midterm in late October.

The Middle School faculty is committed to coaching growth mindset in our students and we believe that changes to the markers will result in positive results for students.

For more on Dweck's theory and research, watch her TED Talk "The Power of Thinking That You Can Improve" or read her book, "Mindset: The New Psychology of Success."

Elaine Christensen '82 is Middle School director and Lakeside's director of professional development. Reach her at MSdirector@lakesideschool.org or 206-440-2772.