Grades vs Learning

The traditional educational model offers lots of benchmarks to measure a student’s progress: grades on assignments, performance on tests, mid-semester grades, end of year assessments, etc. Students who struggle in school often fail to achieve high scores or reach these benchmarks at the same time as their peers.

When this happens, it’s easy for a student to measure himself or herself in comparison to peers rather than his or her own unique developmental timeline. It can be disheartening to feel like no progress has been made and even lead a student to question whether progress will ever be made.

One of my favorite stories about learning slowly comes from an experience Dr. Franklin shared with me about a former student. This student, a young boy, had become despondent because he was still unable to read well despite receiving twice-weekly formal reading instruction. He told Dr. Franklin that he would never be able to read.

Dr. Franklin pointed to the tree that could be seen from the window. “Is that tree growing,” he asked. The student nodded his head yes. Dr. Franklin’s next question was, “How can you tell?” what followed was a conversation about how trees grow. And, a lesson about how growth is always happening although it’s slow and may not always be readily seen.

Even when students are not achieving the educational benchmarks that have been set for them, they are still learning. And like a tree, not all of their growth is readily visible. We have to trust that with the right nourishment and support, a child will continue to grow and develop on his or her own timeline.

Providing support that helps a child progress:


  • recognizes that skills do not come “online” all at the same time
  • remains patient while providing explicit instruction
  • offers several ways to interact with the material
  • helps students believe in themselves as capable learners


Rachel Fisher, MA
Executive Director

Franklin offers specialized academic tutoring, home school, test preparation, and educational therapy in Los Angeles and Orange County.  Contact us for more info!