Day 98 (of 185) can’t vs won’t (with shoutouts to @tweetsomemoore & @kenoc7 )

Day 98 (of 185) can’t vs won’t

One of my teachers wanted to talk over a question/learning problem: how do you differentiate between students that won’t complete a task vs those that can’t?



Admittedly this is more important(immediate?) if the only way to measure learning is based on all students showing their knowing in the same way. My dutiful daughters will happily complete a worksheet that archive ‘a best response’ whereas the blank space makes my son freeze – his anxiety shows him multiple responses but he can’t sort out which “one” is in the teachers answer key…..even though he wants to….


So, I have to admit that I LOVE that my staff is thinking “what would Shelley Moore do/say” whenever they are thinking their thinkings about inclusivity into the schools (and reluctance to “let” student not be in their classroom….!)


The bonus query/worries when these students are working in groups:


(but of course for those of us focusing on descriptive feedback with eportfolios, “grades” is becoming anachronistic!)

The Key “Fixes” to grading (when connected to Learning0

  1. Don’t include behaviour
  2. Don’t reduce marks
  3. Don’t give ‘extra’ marks
  4. Don’t reduce for academic dishonesty; redo
  5. Don’t consider attendance
  6. Don’t include group scores
  7. Don’t organize by assessment method, use learning goals
  8. Be clear in descriptions
  9. Don’t compare to other students
  10. Focus on quality not quantity of evidence
  11. Don’t average
  12. Don’t use zeros
  13. Don’t use formative assessments when summative is needed (and vice versa)
  14. Don’t summarize over time when recent achievement is more relevant
  15. involve students.


All of these ‘fixes’ help us work on whether students can/won’t accomplish work….and force us to be reflective on what is truly wanted/needed/expected. All valuable reflection topics for moving forward!



Most importantly being mindful of why we are teaching and adapting in the ways we do: some kids find it fun to go over and above expectations (ie my daughters musical score for the English civil war) while others struggle to ‘show all work’ (ie my sons math worksheet where he refused to do 9×2 because he already did 6×3 ‘and it’s just regrouping 3s!’) <– so… do you measure the effort/rigor/mental toughness without also considering the “external factors” that can also impact learning achievement. Family. Work. Weather. Basic needs. Personal grief….



For myself, there are many shades (or levels?) in between ‘worst practices’ to ‘best practices’, and very rarely do I see educators trying to ruin students lives (despite what is said in the hallways!). But it can be a big MindShift to identify ‘why’ we teach the way we do <– and this reflection is always worth some bonus marks 😜!



So….when asked if I would group some of ‘the ones not working well in groups’ together, it naturally led to more questions:

  • is this a punishment?
  • is it about grouping similar thinking students?
  • is the task the same, or does it become personalized (groupalized? <– I think Shelley might like this new wording!)
  • is it going to impact (positively or negatively) authentic learning
  • is it about the group or the individual(s)
  • are the standards/expectations/learning outcomes achievable in unconventional ways? or does everyone ‘need’ to accomplish learning in the same way?



Again, it connects right back to the mindset of the teacher and the connection to the Big Ideas in our curriculum. Do all students need to know the same information about the planets in our solar system? For some it will be important to know the earth is 150 million kilometres away from the sun; for others the scale will be much more meaningful – and not that one is better/worse than the other, just different – as in differentiated. So….putting spatial-awareness students together may have some value (and it could be surprising to test if the ‘high-achievers’ who know the distances are able to translate it visually…)



And this led to more discussions about why we shouldn’t be punishing the students who can’t accomplish something specific (again – can’t vs won’t). If a student won’t bring their gym strip, it’s worth a couple questions and maybe some directions (or understanding thanks to professional relationships) to identify if this is behavioural or something…. “more”.    (full disclosure, I really wanted to type “moore”)



We can’t punish students for things they can’t do (and as easy as it is for so many to ‘simply’ walk through an open door, for many that doorway is as inaccessible as anything you can imagine)…..or as a tweet I read today said:

Screen Shot 2017-02-07 at 11.45.41 AM.png

Being aware that if we start to think that “everyone can _____” or “they should have _____” then we are entering a dangerous “enabling” zone – the enabling of “shan’t” <– not even giving a possible thought to can/can’t or will/won’t…..


So we need to be mindful in our educational decisions – and thinking about the fine line between supporting and enabling learn(ed) behaviour(s)  – which reminds me of a statement raised at my daughters Me to We spring trip planning meeting: provide a hand-up not a hand-out…..and knowing, and honouring, the differences between “can’t and won’t”.


About technolandy

Principaling on the Pacific in Powell River BC Pushing 'technologization' in education: blending technology and curriculum seamlessly. Advocate for better understanding of Anxiety in Education (and use of self-regulation) Utilizing ePortfolios & Descriptive Feedback to personalize learning!
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