There is More than One Way to Climb a Tree

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” - Albert Einstein

Students come into school each day equip with different abilities, ethnicity, backgrounds, experiences, demographics, learning styles, interests, talents, passions, strengths and weakness.  How can we as educators expect all students to perform the same task, at the same level, at the same time, when all of our students are at different readiness levels?

Assessment is still a problem for most public education systems in the United States.  There is way too much pressure for students to perform well on state standardized tests, especially when these tests are not an accurate reflection of student potential, nor success. The excerpt below is from the Innovative Educator and I could not agree more with Lisa Nielsen on this subject matter.

The "drill, kill, bubble fill" culture that is being rewarded today does not prepare our students for the 21st century workplace. There has been little emphasis to foster the ability of young people to discover a livelihood best suited to their unique strengths, talents, and passions. [1]  This is because every single kid is grouped by date of manufacture and expected to meet the same learning goals at the same time and pop out the same way at the other end with little to no attention focused on customizing a program to unique individuals. [1]  At the end of the K-12 tunnel every kid emerges supposedly ready for college and career, but rarely have they had a chance to spend time focusing on what it is that "they" are passionate about. Instead they focus on earning the magic carrot of a grade and diploma rewarded to students who are best at memorization, regurgitation, and compliance along with following orders that we all know often are not in the best interest of children. [1]

Lisa Nielsen also proposes a solution to this problem.  Why not assess a collection of work produced by students to demonstrate content mastery, rather then having students take tests? Nielsen writes, "Students can be assessed in a standardized way by authentically demonstrating how standards have been met. This could be captured in an ePortfolio or some other system which could be created on a national level. Students could meet standards at their own pace, in their own way and learning could be differentiated and aligned to each child’s talents, passions, interests, and abilities." [2]

This type of assessment closely resembles project-based learning.  Project-based learning promotes inquiry and exploration, emphasizing creative thinking skills by allowing students to find that there are many ways to solve a problem. This instructional strategy provides students with the opportunity to create their own projects using their preferred learning style and interest, which allows for natural differentiation to occur.

I personally believe all students can learn.  Moreover, I believe that students can continue to learn and grow their entire lives.  I believe that effort and hard work is more of an indicator of success, than intelligence. If students believe in themselves, they can do anything that they put their mind to.

“How we learn shapes what we know and what we can do,” writes author Annie Murphy Paul in a recent Time column. “Our knowledge and our abilities are largely determined not by our IQ or some other fixed measure of intelligence, but by the effectiveness of our learning process: call it our learning quotient.”  This idea supports that anyone can learn, regardless of their inherent IQ, with emphasis on the process, the work and effort. [3]

Final Thought

We as educators need to be providing our students with authentic opportunities for them to demonstrate their learning and understanding.  And the assessments that we use to measure their learning and understanding should accommodate and celebrate the diversity of our students.  So the next time you have your students "climb a tree", be sure that they have all the tools and the support that they will need to get to the top.  And be sure to remind them that there is more than one way to climb a tree!

You might also like

Let's Plant the Seed of Learning in Our Students


  1. Do you know who drew that original cartoon?

  2. Great thoughts! Would just like to point out that there is no concrete evidence that Albert Einstein said the article's leading quote--see Quote Investigator for info on tracking the origin. Still a worthwhile sentiment, though! :)


Post a Comment