While sitting having lunch with some progressive, insightful educators, the ideas around assessment were being bandied around. The struggle between the quantitative and qualitative, the balance between formative and summative assessment, and how to find a balance of assessment that most benefits students.
This idea came to my head: A student’s final mark should never be lower than their mid-term mark.
I said it, knowing it may sound crazy, explaining that I hadn’t fully thought it through. However, here was my logic:
A student’s quantitative evaluation, according to Growing Success in Ontario, should be based on “observations, conversations and student product.” (39) Nowhere in Growing Success does it explain the necessity to calculate a student’s numeric mark. In fact, if you read through the document enough, there is considerable evidence to suggest that teachers should be considering what students do as demonstrations of their learning.
And this brings it back to my idea.
As the year progresses, a student can not un-demonstrate their skills. They can not un-demonstrate their knowledge. This is where it gets tricky. I believe that Growing Success wants us to look at the curriculum as stated and evaluate where each students’ skills are at that moment, thus “most recent, most consistent”. What that means is a student’s numeric mid-term mark, should be looking at that student’s demonstrations against all the skills necessary for that credit.
The idea that a student’s final mark should never be lower than their mid-term mark is contingent on the idea that the teacher is determining that mid-term mark against the entire curriculum, not just an isolated part of it. I know the English curriculum and I would suggest that this idea works. Students at mid-term surely have demonstrated the various elements of reading, writing, oral communication and media studies. A more content driven curriculum, does not fit into this notion.
The one hitch: Growing Success still implies that a student’s final evaluation be determined from 70% of their term work and 30% from a summative. Therefore, at most, a student’s mark should only drop by 30%. However, Growing Success also states, “Determining a report card grade will involve teachers’ professional judgement and interpretation of evidence and should reflect the student’s most consistent level of achievement, with special consideration given to more recent evidence,” (39) which implies that summative evidence may be taken with more consideration.
I leave it to you. My question, considering the ideas, as outlined in Growing Success, is my idea accurate. Or is it the random nonsense of a radical?
Is a mid-term mark, the first instance of our counting to mastery and therefore an indication that a student has successfully demonstrated a specific level of the skills?
Should a student’s final mark ever be lower than their mid-term mark?
Please comment, question, challenge, and be part of this conversation. I’m wrestling with this notion and would love to hear your thoughts.
As easy as it is to claim that I’ve figured it out, it can be just as easy to acknowledge where I’ve been wrong. But then again, sometimes it is very difficult to notice the change we’ve made in our philosophy. Often it feels like, we’ve been there all along. Well, I can say, there may have been a few more things I was wrong about. Here lies the continuation of my list:
For Part 1, click here.
4. Attitude, Behaviour, Attendance and Punctuality Should Affect Marks.
I once said to a student, “Your behaviour tells me you are not all that interested in getting this credit.” Yes, it was my first year teaching. I was following the ideas I had been led to believe. But I had adopted the belief that all these things can be / should be associated with a students grades. In fact, I had a long discussion in my first year with my department head whether a student with 20 absences should even be eligible for the credit, regardless of their abilities. Granted, this changed quick.
5. The Purpose of School is to Prepare Students for University.
I went to university. It was always ‘expected’ of me. So I did. Why wouldn’t I expect the same from my students. On top of that, the work that I once assigned was always in service of their pursuit. Now, of course, I knew that there were different ‘streams’ of students, but ultimately, I held the belief that deep within each student was the dream of university. I was wrong here too. Each student has a vision of the future, which may include university, but doesn’t need it. In fact, I think this is a major struggle for teachers. Not all students long to be university educated. In fact, I now grimace when I hear a teacher say, “We have to do this to prepare them for university.” We’ve confused our mission. We’ve lost our ‘why’. This is why I believe in the educational revolution. We need to reframe our purpose as a public education system. If we give exams, just to prepare them for university, haven’t we lost our purpose.
6. Avoiding Mistakes in the Classroom
I use to be incredibly worried that my students would find out I’m not a great speller or that I’m not a great writer or that I don’t have all the answers. I use to fluff off answers I didn’t know in hopes that students would never see that I am learning as I go. I didn’t want them to know that I didn’t know it all. Now, I do the opposite. I learn with no walls. I’m more intrigued of their thoughts then those I had developed. I open my learning to inside the classroom. I tell them what I’m reading, what I’m learning, how I’m doing it. I ope myself up, more readily, to honest feedback, to stinging indictments, to mistakes. I implore you to dive in, head first, it is worth it.
Again, these six mistakes I’ve made are not nearly as comprehensive as they should be. They are but a sampling of the path I’ve walked on as a teacher. The thing is, I’m still walking that path. I haven’t stopped moving. I haven’t sat down on the bench beside the tree. Even more importantly, I don’t have that ignorantly held belief that the things I’ve gotten wrong won’t keep growing.
For now, let me say.
I was wrong. I’ve changed my mind about a few things that I held pretty firmly.
The thing is the change of position, mentality, ideology, happen over time and sometimes, over night. It happens through a heated conversation with a colleague, a blog post by a stranger or an article written by an academic.
I’m happy to be wrong. But not as happy as I am being right.
Let me know of things you’ve gotten wrong in the comments. Let us wear our history like a badge.
I was wrong. And I’m still learning.
Sometimes, when caught in the moment, I have a tendency to make big sweeping declarations of thought. Those statements that hang in a gallery for all to see. If you are a consistent reader of this blog, you’ll know I’ve made some big, some have said “ballsy”, statements about education, the revolution, pedagogy and what makes a good teacher.
As often as I’ve been right, I’ve been wrong. Over the course of my career in education, I have been wrong many times. My beliefs and ideas around my role in the classroom have changed. And so, here is my list of things I’ve gotten wrong. This is no way a definitive list, but it is the evidence of my reflection on where I’ve come from.
I think it is important to note that we’ve all been wrong. The list of things I’ve gotten wrong in the past is
1. Games = Learning.
On a regular basis I use to play games in class. I would bring out the Jeopardy game (with buzzers and everything) and we’d play. Students would be engaged and laughing and shouting out answers, and I thought I’ve done it. I’ve created a learning environment that is to be envied. I believed that if students were having fun than they must be learning too. As I’ve reflected, talked, read and researched about he nature of engagement, I’ve often been reminded that many of the “games” in learning, hide learning. They gloss over learning. They make learning about trivialities, not deeper critical thinking. My Jeopardy game is on my shelf collecting dust now, I often think I should pull it down and give ‘er a whirl, but I’m too busy actually learning with my students.
2. Tests = Indicators of Success
When I first started, I was all about the test. Every chapter, content quiz. Every two weeks, test. After every unit, I’ve got to test them. I tested them to make sure they were “keeping up”. When I look back in my files and see the old tests I used to give, I cringe. Multiple choice questions about who said what, why. Worse yet, I use to give zeros to students who missed my tests or have them re-write it at lunch to teach them that tests were important. Again, the more I reflected, talked, read and researched, I felt foolish. I started adjusting my expectations, buffering the responsibilty of the test with other tasks. Sure, I had a balance now. But, I’ve gone even further. Stepping away from tests all together. Nothing in an authentic learning environment is about what do you know in this minute, write it as fast as you can. Now, that’s not to say that I don’t give exams, I’m mandated at times to do that, but every chance I get, I try to get out of it. Imagine a time, outside of school where you are put under the circumstances of proving yourself like that. Your driver’s test, that’s maybe it. And even that, you can redo immediately.
My distaste of standardized testing is unchanged. I haven’t, nor will I, waver on it.
3. Technology is the answer.
I’m a gadget guy. My playbook, ipad, ipod touch, macbook, blackberry will attest to that. I’ve never understood people’s resistance to the ever-changing new technology. I was making websites in HTML before Mozilla released a second version. But, the thing I’ve come to learn is that technology itself is not the answer. I used to think that if we put it online, or had them type it, or integrated technology to the task, it inevitably made the task better. I was wrong. The task is more important than the tool. The learning is more important than the task. It is easy to get caught up in the razzle dazzle, shiny lights always attract the eyes, but technology needs to be seen for what it is, an opportunity to use a variety of tools that might make learning more effective, efficient, authentic.
There are more, this is but part one.
Learning, no matter the context, the subject or the purpose, is a team game. You’ve got learners, teachers, helpers, clarifiers, questioners, etc. By working together we learn. We learn lots by working together.
Like any team, no one person is more valuable than the team. Each player plays a role.
Sometimes that role is spelled out for us, decided, before the game is played. Sometimes the role changes mid-game, mid-play, mid-season. But everyone plays a role.
I am coaching the high school hockey team and I watch these guys determine what role they’ll play. I see the grinders dig, the shooters shoot and the defensemen stay back. I see players who understand their role, do it and play within the team context.
But I also see when players try to do too much. They forget their job and try to do someone else’s. The winger who is on the wrong side of the ice, the defensemen who rushes the puck too often, even the goalie who tries to pass the puck. Each player has put their own agenda ahead of the team’s goal. Now, don’t get me wrong, sometimes it works. You catch a good bounce and you’re off to the races. But more often, it hurts your team’s chances.
This too happens in learning. We can know our position, our role in the process and we can sit it in it or we can try to do too much. Step outside of our own role and cost the team. Force our agenda upon the learning process.
The team is the most important part of learning process.
How often do we, as teachers, lose sight of the team? As department heads? As administrators? How often is the agenda individual, rather than team oriented? How often are we setting learning goals in the classroom, department, school and board with all members of the team present and listened too? How often are we doing it in name only?
We have a choice to win or lose for each kid when it comes to learning. It is going to take teamwork.
Totally and utterly, I wimped out. I backed away from my ideals and didn’t have the tough conversation today.
I like to think of myself as a man of principle. I am willing to say what I believe and willing for those beliefs not to be popular. I take pride in being able to take honest feedback. I also take pride in having the courage to engage in “challenging conversations.”
And so, when the opportunity arose, someone asked for my opinion, I whimped out. I decided not to engage. Was it the pressure of the crowd, the desire not to be “that guy”?
I don’t know why. I wish I had, but something prevented me from “getting into it.”
How often do we “hold our tongue”? How often do we refuse to engage? How many others share our thinking, but because it is challenging the status quo, decide to close their door, refuse to engage in the public discourse?
How do we create a culture where people are encouraged to engage in the conversations?
How do we ensure that people don’t wimp out like I did?
We are running a deficit, every day I am witness and party to this need that our competence does not have enough.
We are running a communication deficit. A loss of understanding and ability to openly and authentically communicate with each other.
We no longer know how to communicate in authentic conversations. The increase of passive aggressive means of communication (Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, etc) is allowing people to hide from communicating openly and face to face.
Our collective interpersonal competence is weakened. It goes hand in hand with the sound bite news cycle and the Twitter-length quip. By being sarcastic, sharp and witty, we can avoid those uncomfortable conversations that we need to have real, authentic relationships.
And I’m not sure what we are afraid of.
We risk being called out. Being scrutinized. Being recognized. We risk honesty and sincerity.
I am as guilty for it as anyone. I am quick to the “chirp” of someone else’s misfortune to build a fragile sense of community. My sarcasm and one-liners are often used as a barrier to authentic connection and a way to the easy answer. Despite my attempt to be open, I sometimes avoid these conversations for fear I will be isolated or insulated.
But I must change.
We are building a community of teens that rip on each other as friends. They no longer know how to take authentic conversations where they must reveal vulnerability. They question the need. They walk with their arms in front of their face blocking themselves from that which they fear, rather than walking with arms open ready to receive.
We are running a deficit. And I am afraid of who will eventually have to pay.
Today’s Challenge: Have an uncomfortable, authentic conversation with someone whom you don’t usually talk.
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