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THE PiFactory blog is the thoughts of a radical math teacher now working in a public school in Portland, Oregon.

PiFactory re-trained as a math teacher in the UK at age 50, after 25 years working as a journalist, writing from some 30 countries.

PiFactory and US-born partner moved to the US to give their two children experience of living in their second home.

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Allan Edwards  |  March 25, 2008 at 12:20 am

    Thank you so much…
    I am putting my research together carefully.
    As for student assessment, by the end of my career, I had turned to do “collaborative” assessment, i.e. the students and I would look over the major elements of a given unit and together determine what the major elements of the unit were, and what really ought to be assessed (and how).
    (I taught composition, so the units had to do with one of the ten forms of composition taught in the course.) Then we created a 6 point rubric for the scoring upon which we could all agree would accurately assess a composition written in a particular style (narrative, autobiographical, expository, argumentative, etc.) The elements which were central to the style would receive the greatest weight, the trivia the least. Spelling and punctuation always received a part of the score, sentence variety and vocabulary usage another part of the score, and effectiveness a part. The students would study and discuss several examples of a given “type” of essay I was teaching during any given week, and then be given their own prompt once we had gone through 1)structured practice, then 2) guided practice. They were all given the same amount of time to do their first draft (in class). Their homework was to take their rough draft home and flesh it out (typed), bringing both back to class on the following meeting. That session would be devoted to “scoring” the papers according to the rubric we had collectively created. Codes identified the papers rather than names. If a student decided not to do the homework, he/she was scored on the rough that was to be worked on for homework. Sometimes there was truly no need for revision, and the student was allowed to choose, but most first drafts received low marks. But that was their choice, thus they were never “dinged” by the teacher for not doing the homework. Their choice. They owned it, not I.
    Each paper was scored by three student scorers on a 6-point rubric, 1 being unacceptable, 6 being scintillating, accurate, and written according to the style called for. The 6 point rubric fits the bell curve beautifully, and if a student received a 1 to a 1.99, it would constitute an “F”. If any paper received scores that differed by 2 points (or 2 standard deviations) , there was a “conflict,” and I read the paper to break the irregularity. The three “consistent” scores were averaged, and that was the student’s initial mark. Margin notes justified the scores given after scoring by the student scorers. (students kept notes and scores of the papers they read, and after all were scored, the owners of the papers would go around to those who rated their papers, since all scorers had to clearly sign their names — an accountability measure.) If the student wished a higher score on the paper, he/she could take it home and improve it, attaching the first two drafts to the final copy. Otherwise, the student/teacher scored essays went into the book as the assessment. Most took them home and revised them. However, the students all realized from the get-go that they could actually “oversharpen the blade” and end up with a lower score, which happened sometimes (but the students got to choose the highest of the three scores received).

    This method was a combination of what I had learned as a teacher in Germany and as an International Baccalaureate Teacher. I used the method for about 8 years. During those last 8 years, there was never a dispute about the “subjective” grade on any essay, the students no longer used the excuse that I am sure you have run into about why he/she got a bad grade: “The teacher just doesn’t like me, so he scores my papers harder,” and the odd thing was that the “curve” spread out to look more like a “real” bell curve. Yes, there were more “C” grades, fewer “A”s, and consequently far, far fewer “F”s. The added bonus was that my work load was lowered because my students and I became “partners” in grading essays. And believe me when I say they could be deadly fair. And were. Besides, they had near immediate feedback, which in Composition classes is very rare unless the teacher is brand new or a glutton for extreme personal punishment.
    Sorry to have gone on and on. Your consideration of going to student assessment brought back very exciting and fond memories, and the question, “Why didn’t I use this from the beginning of my career?” I would have been able to have spent much more time with my own children, rather than thinking I had the magic formula alone about how an essay ought to be assessed. If you are interested, I will write the entire system out, step-by-step. It truly changed the way I taught, made the class far more self-motivated and “happy,” and their state exam scores shot through the ceiling. The Tao Te Ching influenced my decision — “Lead from behind…be like the water and go into places men avoid… give up sainthood and renounce superiority, and all will be better for it.”


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