Non-Measurable Mondays: “The Summer School Method,” by Kristin Bivens

Non-Measurable Mondays is a weekly feature for the Fall 2015 semester, featuring stories and essays on modes of student success that cannot be grasped by data. We are seeking submissions for the full semester, which can be sent to me at For more details, see the original post here.

As an elementary school student, one of my favorite films was Summer School. In the movie, Mark Harmon, the resident high school physical education teacher, gets snagged to teach summer school in the moments immediately after the regular school year ends. Threatened because he is pre-tenure, he acquiesces and teaches a classroom full of students at the oceanfront during the summer.

An Internet Movie Database (imdb) contributor summarizes the plot like this:

A high-school gym teacher has big plans for the summer, but is forced to cancel them to teach a “bonehead” English class for misfit goof-off students. Fortunately, his unconventional brand of teaching fun field trips begins to connect with them, and even inspires ardor in some.

In the YouTube clip, you can see the title, “Now That’s Teaching.” Instead of the final grades, based on pre- and post-test assessments, Harmon’s character, the affable Mr. Shoop, argues for what I have dubbed, “The Summer School Method.” Instead of the result, Mr. Shoop argues on behalf of his students for the progress they have made, not the final grade or score.

In other words, Mr. Shoop advocates for the journey of learning, not the destination. The learning that isn’t measured as the mark (pun intended) of learning. I overheard a colleague explain, in a different way, The Summer School Method. She expertly used pre-tests and quizzes to show a student to not be dejected because they weren’t going to pass the class.

She took the time to show the student how the destination (a grade) can’t represent the learning and improvement they had made in an ENG 98 classroom. If you want to encourage our students, who need developmental education at exasperating rates, use The Summer School Method: measure student success on improvement, not just final grades.  

And, for Shoop’s sake, recognize you can’t measure learning with the methods we deploy. If you want learning wrapped up in a scantron and scored in a machine, you might not be as interested in facilitating learning in your classroom as you think. And, please think.

Gauging learning isn’t just about tests and post-tests or mid-term and final grades.

Some things are immeasurable.

Some processes are tacit and cannot be articulated.

It is shortsighted to think we can measure all that we know. It is a mistake to think everything we teach can be measured. It is a disservice to our students to demean the learning process into something that privileges a dysfunctional system.

I would advocate using The Summer School Method to gauge student learning as a method that recognizes that learning is a complex, dynamic process that cannot be easily distilled into a letter grade, as Dave’s, Phil’s, and Erica’s posts have shown.

The lives our students live are complex and dynamic, too. Using The Summer School Method recognizes this–it privileges the process and not just the outcome. In the end, our students still need to meet the requirements to pass a class, and I’m not arguing that they shouldn’t.

However, by using a different framework to assess student learning, we might be able to make better use of the measurements that we do take.

Kristin Bivens is a Professor of English at Harold Washington College.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s