The Perception of Productivity

The first time I had a student teacher in my room, the first question they asked me while observing my class was,

Is this what productivity is in middle school?

I looked around at my kids. They were in their pods, engaged in a discussion protocol that followed an activity regarding Daniel Keye's novel, "Flowers for Algernon". The room was buzzing. Conversations blurred as random outbursts of excited, relevant argumentation proceeded from different groups. I smiled for two reasons; I realized productivity and success were not synonymous, and my kids were amazing.

Middle school success is something that invigorates the senses. The room is filled with energy and has no room for echoes. When kids are learning, you hear it in the buzz and inflections of their voices. You feel the excitement linger in your hands and feet. You see the gears twisting and turning as they become enveloped by new ideas and personal epiphanies. There is nothing quite like a middle school classroom.

This simple inquiry regarding what productivity is according to a specific setting made me curious as to how others, whether they are educators or not, perceive productivity. It also pushed me to challenge the idea of productivity versus success. 

Often, we equate silence to being successfully productive. But what does productive even mean? The definition of productive is "achieving or producing a significant amount or result." A significant amount of what? If all educators want is for their kids to produce worksheets and tests in order to prove that their measurement of success is found in the structures of academic grades, standards, and compliance, then I suppose silence is productive. However, that is not realistic or healthy, nor does it amount to success. 


Student learning targets are grounded in three facets: knowledge, skills, and affect (Popham, 2010, p. 3). In order for us educators to identify what our learners need, we must assess. Assessments give us the starting point of our long journey on this incredibly large map of Academia. Without this map (knowledge), we don't know whether we are wasting time, going in circles, or completely lost. Furthermore, what we set out on this journey equipped with (skills) will determine our survival. We uncover basic data of what we need to know concerning our learners' knowledge and skills by assessing them. How we assess them (differentiation) as we identify their needs (affect) is what can determine the difference between mere productivity and true success.  

Education is a decision-making enterprise, and educational measurement helps educators make better decisions
— Popham, 2010, p. 5
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College= Success?

In Paul Tough's book "How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character" (2012), he tells of a promising class of 38 learners from the South Bronx who were pulled into a KIPP school in the 1990s. The KIPP school was decorated with college paraphernalia and posters that read "Climb the mountain to college." Homework was mandatory and higher education was preached. This class of kids left the KIPP middle school to head to high school. 

Of that cohort, only 21 percent of them finished a four-year college degree. Those who continued through college "seemed to be the ones who possessed certain other gifts, skills like optimism and resilience and social agility. They were students who were able to recover from bad grades and resolve to do better next time" (Tough, 2010, p. 52). These noncognitive skills alone cannot equal success, but they are indeed an important skill to have when packing for your academia journey.

Therefore, all knowledge, skill, and affect cannot be found among the standards. What sets a successful journey apart is found within the curricula consistently refined by how teachers inspire, motivate, challenge, and provoke their learners.

Hollie, S. (2012). Culturally and linguistically responsive teaching and learning. Huntington Beach, CA: Shell Education.

Popham, W. J. (2010). Everything school leaders need to know about assessment. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Tough, P. (2012). How children succeed: Grit, curiosity, and the hidden power of character. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

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