The Importance of the First Two Weeks
By Thomas R. Guskey, University of Kentucky
The most important time in the school year for students, teachers, and parents is the first two weeks. What happens during this critical period pretty much determines how the rest of the year will go.
When children return to school after the summer break, their perceptions about school and about themselves as learners are in flux. It’s a new year with new teachers, new books, new classes, new schedules, and new friends. All of these new things come with the hope this year could be different and better than all previous years.
That flexibility in their perceptions continues only until teachers administer the first quizzes and assessments around the end of the second week of school. When teachers assign grades to those first quizzes, the grades put students into categories. Getting out of a category is really difficult.
Students who receive a C on that first math quiz, for example, begin to see themselves as C students. Their uncertainty and flexibility in their perceptions suddenly becomes fixed, and they begin to accept the idea they are likely to earn C’s in math for the rest of the school year.
When the second quiz or assessment occurs, they expect to receive another C. When they do, it reinforces their perception. Similarly, if they receive a failing grade on that first quiz, they think all following grades will be the same. But if they succeed on that first quiz and receive a high grade, that, too is their perception of all that might follow.
This means that teachers must do everything they can to ensure students’ success during the first two weeks. At every level and in every class, teachers must do whatever is necessary to help students experience success in learning during this critical period. And not fake success, but success on something meaningful and challenging. It should be something that makes students feel good about what they have achieved and confident in their abilities as learners.
The key to motivating students rests with that success. Students persist in activities at which they experience success, and they avoid activities at which they are not successful or believe they cannot be successful.
This is the reason truancy and attendance problems rarely occur during the first two weeks of the school year. They begin to occur after the first graded quizzes, papers or assessments. In students’ minds, the grades they receive on these first quizzes and assessments establish their likelihood of future success. And why come to school if there is so little chance of doing well?
Parents, too, must be genuinely involved in their children’s education during the first two weeks. Routines established at home in this critical period profoundly affect the likelihood of success.
Daily conversations about school activities help children recognize that their parents value success in school. Providing a quiet place for children to work on school assignments and limiting the time they spend watching television or playing computer games further increase the chances for success. Checking with teacher to make sure children are well prepared and ready to succeed also can help.
Successful experiences during these first two weeks of school do not guarantee success for the entire school year. But they are a powerful and perhaps essential step in that direction. Teachers and parents need to take advantage of this critical time and use it well. It can make all the difference.
Thomas R. Guskey, Ph.D.
Thomas R. Guskey, Ph.D., is Professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Kentucky and known throughout the world for his work on student assessment, grading and reporting, professional learning, and educational change. A graduate of the University of Chicago, he began his career in education as a middle school teacher, served as an administrator in Chicago Public Schools, and was the first Director of the Center for the Improvement of Teaching and Learning, a national educational research center. He is the author/editor of 21 award-winning books and more than 250 book chapters and articles. His most recent books include On Your Mark: Challenging the Conventions of Grading and Reporting (2015), Reaching the Highest Standard in Professional Learning: Data (with P. Roy & V. Von Frank, 2014), Answers to Essential Questions about Standards, Assessments, Grading, and Reporting (with L. Jung, 2013), Benjamin S. Bloom: Portraits of an Educator (2nd ed., 2012), and Developing Standards-Based Report Cards (with J. Bailey, 2010). He is an engaging presenter who helps bring clarity and resolution to some of education’s most challenging problems. Visit his site: http://tguskey.com/about-tom/ and follow him on Twitter @tguskey.