Posts tagged ‘grades’

Grading gets an F

persian_geometryBuy this Persian Geometry design on a PiFactory tee-shirt

THE PRINCIPAL of my school has bravely initiated a discussion about whether or not D and F grades should be used by teachers. The argument goes along the lines if D and F grades are ditched then teachers will need to work with their pupils to find the success within every student.

Ds and Fs don’t motivate or promote learning. Finding success does.

Ds and Fs have enshrined the out-dated pedagogy that grading is about sorting and ranking, that students need to be judged in comparison with one another.

The result of such alpha-numeric grading is that the traditional idea of the “good” student — the students who most closely resemble the aspirations of their teachers — is the scale against which students are judged; learning is demonstrated by turning homework in on time, doing well on quizzes and tests and putting your hand up to answer questions while not talking out of turn.

The result of such behavior is turned into a mathematically nonsensical percentage inside a computer, which then spews out the grade. And for many teachers that’s it.

If a student does not fit into this rigid mould, or cannot demonstrate learning by these criteria, then the result is F for Failure.

Yet the research should be pointing us to question this approach: Not only does this traditional way of measuring learning not reveal the learning going on among many students, it is actually an obstacle to learning for all students… the achievers as well as those who appear not to be getting it.

As part of the discussion in our school I was challenged in a meeting to summarize the case against alpha-numeric grading. I mumbled a few sentences as best I could for as long as it seemed polite to do so.

Then, later, I kicked myself for forgetting the key reason grading does not work. So, I decided to summarize in short sentence bites the best case I could muster for a two-minute contribution:

❏ Grades tell students nothing about what they need to do to improve.

❏ Grades tell students nothing about what they have achieved.

❏ Grades focus students on grades and collecting points, not on what they are learning.

❏ Grades introspectively focus students on ability, or their feelings of lack of ability, not on how they can work to improve.

❏ Grades destroy intrinsic motivation.

❏ Grades don’t measure learning: grades measure obedience, compliance and how well a student can jump through a teacher’s grading-policy hoop.

❏ Grades discourage intellectual risk taking.

❏ Grades divert the attention of teachers and parents as well as students.

❏ Grades encourage rote learning, memorization not reflection.

❏ Grades pit student against student, ranking and sorting.

❏ A grades require F grades. Grades force teachers to give Fs to justify the As. Grades work against finding the success in every student.

❏ Grades increase stress. Stress is bad for learning.

❏ Grades don’t describe learning.

❏ Grades throw students off the back of the boat.

❏ Grades discourage student collaboration.

❏ Grades reward skills not valued in later life, such as memorization.

❏ Grades demoralize and demotivate.

❏ Grades label and stigmatize.

❏ Grades are part of an out-dated carrot and stick, rewards and punishment behaviorist approach to education.

❏ Grades lower the self-esteem of low achieving students and discourage risk taking among higher achieving students.

Readers will find plenty of links elsewhere in this blog on the research behind these statements. But a good start would be From degrading to de-grading by Alfie Kohn.

Advertisements

October 21, 2009 at 9:05 pm 1 comment

Behaviorism 101

Sierpinski triangle tee-shirtBuy this Sierpinski triangle design on a PiFactory tee-shirt

RATS working in close collaboration around the clock have successfully trained a human being to do their bidding for hours, even days on end. Rats around the world are abuzz at the breakthrough.

Teams of rats have proven again and again that a human being can be trained to give them food repeatedly whenever they push a bar.

Boy, have I got this guy conditioned! Every time I press this bar he drops in a piece of food. Cartoon from the Columbia Jester in 1928.

Boy, have I got this guy conditioned! Every time I press this bar he drops in a piece of food. Cartoon from the Columbia Jester, 1928.

The rats have yet to explain why the humans should behave in this way.

OK. Sorry, it’s an old joke… dating back to 1928. But I still think it’s funny.

Behaviorism as a credible theory to explain human behavior is supposed to have been in its death throes sometime back in the late 1960s, early ’70s and certainly was buried by the 1990s.

But as an opinion piece published by the Association of Psychological Science claimed on the 2004 centennary of the birth of behaviorism’s apostle BF Skinner commented, “behaviorism is alive”.

I agree. It’s virulent. From the little things like the gold stars right through to the biggest… the grades. Defeating learning. And rarely mentioned.

Behavorism is the biggest and most studiously-ignored elephant, 800-pound gorilla, most-naked-emperor in the room.

Alfie Kohn notes in his detailed critique of behavorism, Punished by Rewards:

“There is a time to admire the grace and persuasive power of an influential idea, and there is a time to fear its hold over us,” writes Kohn, before adding possibly the best definition of hegemony I’ve ever read.

“The time to worry is when the idea is so widely shared that we no longer even notice it, when it is so deeply rooted that it feels to us like plain common sense.

“At the point when objections are not answered anymore because they are no longer even raised, we are not in control: we do not have the idea; it has us.”

Such an idea is behaviorism: The best way to get something done is to give a reward to people when they act the way we want them to. Or, punish them when they act the way we don’t want them to.

Do this and you’ll get that. After all, it’s just common sense. Except… the research shows it makes no sense at all.

Like tens of thousands of schools around the USA, my school regularly gets caught up in a wrestling match with the 800-pound gorilla, and wonders why either little appears to change or sometimes things get even worse.

I teach in a very kind school. It’s quiet. Teachers don’t shout. It is supportive. And genuinely sensitive to the needs of its students. But, like in thousands of others the gorillas, elephants and emperors in their behaviorist clothes stalk the corridors and classrooms.

Our latest, and well-meaning, attempt to unwittingly mobilize an elephant in aid of our students came with the printing of hundreds of little green bucks. Whenever we catch a student doing good, they get a buck and bucks means prizes… or something.

Millions of similar fraudulent bucks, or their sticker-star-grade equivalents, have been printed and doled out in classrooms in tens of thousands of other schools all over America.

Not quite on a par with the real bucks for good grades (up to $4,000 a year!) proposed by President-elect Barack Obama’s nomination for Education Secretary Arne Duncan in his September 2008 plan. But behaviorist rewards nonetheless.

After much initial enthusiasm, the modest initiative seems to have fizzled rather than be trampled… no one was sure exactly what the bang was you got for your buck. And that was the first question asked by students. Not, you note, what was it you wanted us to permanently change in our behavior?

Pretend bucks traded for compliance is not a new idea. Two centuries ago, in the first decade of the 1800s the first public school in New York City had tried giving out tickets (exchangeable for toys) to students who did as they were instructed. This early behavior modification experiment in bribery was abandoned because, said the trustees, the use of rewards “fostered a mercenary spirit” and “engendered strifes and jealousies”.

Those bicentennial quotes could pretty well describe the effects of grades and grading today.

Even the best of intentions of one person might not feel like that to someone else, the object of the intentions. On the other side of rewards, my school, like many others, has also implemented mandatory after-school tutoring, with the label “support”, for seniors with failing grades. Hardly any students have turned up. Support when it’s mandatory perhaps feels a bit like punishment. Or, at least, humiliating.

Kohn’s review, sub-titled “the trouble with gold stars, incentive plans, A’s, praise and other bribes”, gives a blow-by-blow account of the research over decades that has similarly concluded that rewards (and punishments) — much bigger than a few good-humored pretend bucks — do not make sense. They not only don’t work, but defeat the very purpose for which they ostensibly are frequently being used.

The risks of rewards include:

Rewards and punishments are not opposites, just two sides of the same coin,

❏ The more rewards are used, the more they are needed,

❏ Rewards don’t lead to lasting change,

❏ Rewards serve the interests of those giving the reward, not necessarily those receiving the reward,

❏ Rewards avoid asking about the reasons behind the need for rewards,

❏ Students working for a reward, do what is necessary to get the reward and no more.

❏ Rewards motivate… they motivate people to get rewards,

❏ Rewards are experienced as controlling, students recoil from anything that appears to diminish their autonomy,

❏ Consequences, positive reinforcement, tough love and student choices are just other ways of packaging behaviorist rewards and punishments,

❏ There are at least five good reasons to stop saying Good Job, praise can be a dangerous reward,

And most alarmingly the research reveals…

❏ The more you want a reward, the more you may come to dislike whatever you have to do to get it,

❏ Extrinsic rewards reduce intrinsic motivation,

❏ Extrinsic motivators, rewards and punishments, are most dangerous when offered for something we want students to want to do.

The elephants and gorillas do, indeed, trample everything under foot.

But as Kohn warns: “If a teacher stops using extrinsic motivators tomorrow, dumps the stickers and stars and certificates in the garbage can and puts the grade book away, students are not going to leap out of their seats cheering, ‘hooray! Now we can be intrinsically motivated!'”

But at least without an 800-pound gorilla in the classroom there’ll be the room to start to focus on the task at hand: helping students find and construct their own meanings on the road to learning.

For a thought-provoking discussion of behaviorism and the issue of classroom management see Beyond Discipline.

December 29, 2008 at 9:59 pm 1 comment

Hope and change in my classroom

Click for math mindmaps from The PiFactoryGet math mind maps from The PiFactory

AS A HIGH-SCHOOL teacher I’m hoping that the election of Barrack Obama will bring hope and change to my classroom. Even a couple of quite simple changes could make a huge difference.

So, I’ve been surfing and listening to the pundits to try to glean a clue as to what might be coming post 20 January. It’s been a bit up and down.

It was an up that in November President-elect Obama appointed Linda Darling-Hammond, professor of education at Stanford’s School of Education, to head his education policy transition team.

Her title is Policy Working Group Leader for Education, and, unlike some of the other Obama working groups, her’s is not a shared post. Her brief is “to develop the priority policy proposals and plans from the Obama Campaign for action during the Obama-Biden Administration”.

Many hoped she would go on to be the pick for Education Secretary.

Alfie Kohn, writing in The Nation, said Darling-Hammond “tends to be the choice of people who understand how children learn.

“Darling-Hammond knows how all the talk of ‘rigor’ and ‘raising the bar’ has produced sterile, scripted curriculums that have been imposed disproportionately on children of color. Her viewpoint is that of an educator, not a corporate manager.”

Darling-Hammond is a favorite of teachers as the unusual petition which called on President-elect Obama to appoint her to the Secretary of Education post attested with some 2,000 signatures. “Schools are not, and cannot be run as businesses and that’s where public ed. is headed. Linda Darling-Hammond represents true reform,” wrote Bonnie Demerjian from Wrangell, AK.

However, Obama has not appointed Darling-Hammond his Secretary of Education. That honor has gone to Chicago school chief Arne Duncan, who is not an educator and who, many argue, very much sees schools as businesses. On the eve of his appointment, Bush Education Secretary Margaret Spelling hailed Duncan “a visionary leader. He’s a guy who looks at results.

“He’s a terrific school leader. I consider him a fellow reformer and someone who cares deeply about students. He’d be a great choice,” she said at a ceremony to help Chicago’s mayor Daley and Duncan give out $350,000 in merit pay to some of Chicago’s teachers and school employees.

Time-CNN reported: “He’s considered by most to be a quiet consensus builder. In Chicago, his knack for forging alliances can be seen in his strong relationship with the local teachers’ union despite his embrace of reforms the union is leery of, including school choice, pay for performance and a willingness to close down failing schools.”

Introducing his new Education Secretary Obama said: “For Arne, school reform isn’t just a theory in a book, it’s the cause of his life.” Obama specifically mentioned pay-for-performance teacher salaries and charter-schools development as strategies with strong potential noted Edutopia.

In a video interview with Edutopia, Duncan said, “quality public education is the civil rights issue of our generation”.

(Edutopia also has a video interview with Linda Darling-Hammond on social and emotional learning to help develop the whole child inside the collaborative classroom.)

But the editor of Substance, “the newspaper of public education in Chicago”, George Schmidt says, “to portray Arne Duncan as anything other than a privatizer, union buster, and corporate stooge is to simply lie.”

Commenting on the Schools Matter blog Schmidt details some of Duncan’s policy actions:

❏ No bid crony contracts

❏ Militarization of Chicago’s high schools

❏ Opposition to continued court monitoring of meager desegregation plan

❏ Opposition to Federal oversight of special education progams

❏ Charter schools segregation

Sam Smith, who has covered Washington for 40+ years and has seen nine presidents, writing at Undernews also takes Duncan’s reputation to task: “If we’re going to insist on judging our children primarily by how well they score on tests, we should probably do the same for education secretary nominees. The problem is that it spoils the fantasy that the major media has been creating around Arne Duncan.”

Under the headline “Flunkin’ Duncan”, Smith examines Chicago’s test scores since Duncan took over in 2001: “To summarize what has happened in Chicago schools: not much. Bear in mind, that even where there has been improvement, it has amounted to less than a 1% increase in test scores over a five year period.”

“Duncan — like DC’s school chancellor Michelle Rhee — has fostered a dysfunctional rightwing, corporatized system of education that not only isn’t working, it is damaging our children as it trains them to be obedient worker-drones incapable of analyzing or understanding what is really going on about them.”

Smith lists the following dangers:

❏ Teaching our children only to give the right answers and not to ask the right questions.

❏ Grossly limiting education to fact accumulation and basic manipulation of data, leaving little time for analysis, creativity, judgment, philosophy, gaining social intelligence, as well as learning about, and participating in, the non-mechanical aspects of life such as art, theater and music. This system deliberately teaches our children not to think.

❏ Through the use of charter schools, turning public education into what was known in earlier times as pauper schools.

❏ Damaging communities by destroying schools, institutions that not only served students but their parents and provided commonality in ever more atomized urban areas.

Kenneth Saltman, associate professor in the department of Educational Policy Studies and Research at DePaul University in Chicago, and Henry A. Giroux of McMaster University in Canada, write on Truthout that “Duncan largely defines schools within a market-based and penal model of pedagogy… he does not have the slightest understanding of schools as something other than adjuncts of the corporation at best or the prison at worse.”

They place Duncan’s tenure in Chicago as serving the Bush agenda of destroying public education: “The hidden curriculum is that testing be used as a ploy to de-skill teachers by reducing them to mere technicians, that students be similarly reduced to customers in the marketplace rather than as engaged, critical learners and that always underfunded public schools fail so that they can eventually be privatized.”

And after reading their long and detailed description of Chicago’s Renaissance 2010 project, it is hard to give Mr Duncan the benefit of the doubt.

Arne Duncan’s appointment was a bit of a downer.

So, Obama has brought on board educator and former teacher Prof Linda Darling-Hammond and CEO Arne Duncan to be the team of rivals that will oversee public education for the next four, possibly eight years.

What will it mean?

Prof Darling-Hammond met with the Council of Chief State School Officers in November in a closed meeting to brief them on the likely Obama education themes. According to Education Week Prof Darling-Hammond outlined the Obama philosophy as…

❏ Teacher quality, early education, and innovation.

❏ Mend, not bend, No Child Left Behind

❏ No cuts in education funding

Well, President-elect Obama has already pledged $10 billion for early school education.

But will teacher quality be Duncan-style sackings if test scores are not met? Or Darling-Hammond collaboration in the classroom?

Or, do they have more in common than revealed in the blogs and articles? Both have talked of mentoring for teachers, for instance. Prof Darling-Hammond’s call for a Marshall Plan for Teaching sounds as dramatic and urgent as Duncan’s talk of education as the civil rights issue of our generation.

Well, I don’t pretend to know or be able to predict. I just remain hopeful, and frankly, for the moment I’m hoping for more Darling-Hammond change and less Duncan change.

I suspect that Prof Darling-Hammond is more likely to be sympathetic to making the few small changes I need in my classroom… ending the emphasis and priority given to alpha-numeric grading and frequent testing in favor of creating a collaborative classroom where students are free to develop the essential life skill of becoming critical and creative thinkers.

December 21, 2008 at 3:16 am Leave a comment

Assessment… a new sort of gradebook

Buy Homage to a Square tee-shirtBuy this Homage to a Square PiFactory tee-shirt

WHAT could authentic assessment look like in the classroom?

For four years I have been experimenting in my math classroom to replace percentage and letter grades with much more meaningful descriptive feedback.

There’s no shortage of percentage-based grade books for teachers. Punch in the numbers and out come the letter grades.assess_screen_02
Assignments built from learning targets with student self-assessmentassess_screen_04 They don’t tell the student what they need to do to improve… they don’t even tell the student what it is they have achieved.

They just divert the student’s attention with a meaningless letter grade from the essential tasks of learning. The frustrated and anxious student is left vainly to plead for extra credit in a bid to get more nonsense points.

The challenge is to create a gradebook that is not based on numbers and letters, but records descriptive progress and gives the student the sort of valuable feedback that describes just what it is they need to do to improve their learning.

Well, take a look at this powerpoint and let me know what you think.

The system is based on student-friendly learning targets. Assignments and questions are all linked to a learning target.

Against each assignment and learning target the teacher can record and feedback to the student a description — ranging from Starting through Getting it to Got it — and add a suggested revision learning target plus a customized study skill tip.

It also records the student’s own self-assessment of progress.

And rather than add up meaningless percentages, the system summarizes to what extent the teacher and student agree on their assessment of progress.

It can show a matrix of an individual student’s progress. Or, it can show, color-coded, the progress of an entire class.

Input screens allow the teacher to add questions (+ pictures, diagrams and equations), new targets, target notes and assignments — and link them together in a host of assignment designs.

December 14, 2008 at 11:14 pm 1 comment

Win, win not fail, fail

Sierpinski triangle tee-shirtBuy this design on a PiFactory tee-shirt

GRADING day, end of the first quarter. After a long day writing individual assessments, I have some envy for my colleague teachers who have been punching in percentages into their computers for the past few weeks.

As the email reminded us at the beginning of the day: hit the yellow button and the magic software will turn all the numbers into a grade and get the report cards ready for dispatch. Bingo! Easier than punching in 180+ grades and descriptive assessments by one-by-one.

I note one of my colleagues’ students has a percentage of 92.827. Well, that’s an A, then. To three decimal places!

Clearly the assessments that built this grade had not just 100 criteria, not 1,000, not 10,000… but 100,000. Some grading!

But what is this percentage of..? What exactly has our student achieved 92.827% of..? What, exactly, is being measured?

Percentages are a mathematical nonsense, unless they are of something. Just what did our student fail to do to miss out on the last 7.133%? Nothing on the report card gives an explanation.

Even being more sensible about the three decimal places (the very expensive software used across school district spewed those out, not I), just what would, say, a rounded 90% actually mean?

More important what about the student who got a 65% and got an F? What practical advice does the 65% contain to tell the poor unfortunate who has been branded a failure need to do to become a success?

The A, B, C, D or dreaded F may contain no help in specifically describing what a student has or has not learned… and certainly contains no help in telling a student what they need to do to improve. But it does label the student.

This might be ok for the (albeit stressed-out) student labelled an A or B… but it’s not so hot for the student labelled C, D or F. Labelled a failure… but given no clue as to what to do.

And, believe me, where these percentage-based letter grading systems are used with enthusiasm, then these numbers have been pinned up fresh every week in classrooms… raising stress levels in all the students weekly and forcing them to focus and re-focus… not on the joys of learning, but on the terrors of the grade.

You might get an A one week on your assignment. The next, you miss it. That means you’re at best 50% and failing wildly. There’s plenty of teachers who practice, and defend this as a perfect reflection of their students’ learning. You get a perfect 100% A the following week… that still does not lift you back up to passing!

You might be well on top of the learning… but you can’t meet deadlines = F! What’s important here?

So, what’s on your mind? The beauties of that Shakespearean sonnet or doing something desperate to scrabble together a few more percentage points? Or, just call it quits? You can’t win.

What if you are the kid who doesn’t get As? And you miss an assignment? And you work nights?

Is this education… or just a confusing nightmare? Life was much more fair in Catch-22. Welcome to school.

❏ So, what is to be done?

Drop the As, Bs down to Fs. Learn the lessons of pre-algebra and accept that percentages without a definable “of” are a mathematical nonsense.

Instead, describe in student-friendly phrases just what it is they need to learn, what they have learned, and what is the next achievable step they need to take to improve.

And give them as many chances as they need to do it, to learn. It’s the learning that’s important, whenever and wherever it finally happens. Not the grade.

That’s a win, win. Not fail, fail.

November 3, 2008 at 4:48 am 2 comments

Working inside the black box

Click to buy this Eratosthenes teeClick here to buy this Eratosthenes Net PiFactory tee-shirt

YET MORE research is now available to confirm that alpha-numeric grading and traditional testing not only do nothing to promote learning… but actually lower achievement.

Since the late ’90s the team assembled around Prof Paul Black at King’s College, London, has steadily chipped away at the traditionalist approaches to assessment with their Inside the Black Box series.

“In terms of systems engineering, present policies in the US and in many other countries seem to treat the classroom as a black box,” Black and Dylan Wiliam argued a decade ago. “Certain inputs from the outside — pupils, teachers, other resources, management rules and requirements, parental anxieties, standards, tests with high stakes, and so on — are fed into the box.

“Some outputs are supposed to follow: pupils who are more knowledgeable and competent, better test results, teachers who are reasonably satisfied, and so on.

“But what is happening inside the box?” they asked.(October 1998 issue of Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 80, No. 2.)

Their books and articles have since influenced tens of thousands of teachers and educational professionals around the world. But while their reasoning has changed both thinking and practice in the UK and Europe, it has yet to take a hold in US public schools which remain fettered by traditionalist, formulaic practice and teaching children to collect points.

Now Black, Wiliam and colleagues have produced a new series of slim pamphlets taking the argument further and giving specific advice and a wealth of teaching points tailored to key subject areas, with an overall summary Working Inside the Black Box.

The pamphlets, published by GL Assessment, focus on maths, english and science.

Working inside the black box means focussing on assessment inside the classroom with the priority of serving student learning: “It thus differs from assessment designed primarily to serve the purposes of accountability, or of ranking, or of certifying competence.

“An assessment activity can help learning if it provides information to be used as feedback, by teachers, and by their pupils, in assessing themselves and each other, to modify the teaching and learning activities in which they are engaged.

“Such assessment becomes ‘formative assessment’ when the evidence is actually used to adapt the teaching work to meet learning needs.”

Research experiments have established that, whilst pupils’ learning can be advanced by feedback through comments, the giving of marks — or grades — has a negative effect in that pupils ignore comments when marks are also given (Butler, 1988).

“These results often surprise teachers, but those who have abandoned the giving of marks find that their experience confirms the findings: pupils do engage more productively in improving their work,” says the Black team.

“The central point here is that, to be effective, feedback should cause thinking to take place… the assessment of pupils’ work will be seen less as a competitive and summative judgement and more as a distinctive step in the process of learning.

“The key to effective learning is to then find ways to help pupils restructure their knowledge to build in new and more powerful ideas… that learning was not a process of passive reception of knowledge, but one in which the learners were active in creating their own understandings. Put simply, it became clear that, no matter what the pressure to achieve good test and examination scores, learning cannot be done for the pupil; it has to be done by the pupil.”

Teachers in the UK involved in a two-year experiment demanded to learn more about the psychology of learning after working on such formative assessment practice in the classroom:”Learning is not just a cognitive exercise: it involves the whole person. The need to motivate pupils is evident, but it is often assumed that this is best done by offering such extrinsic rewards s merits, grades, gold stars and prizes. There is ample evidence that challenges this assumption.

“Pupils will only invest effort in a task if they believe that they can achieve something. If a learning exercise is seen as a competition, then everyone is aware that there will be losers as well as winners: those who have a track record as losers will see little point in trying.

“Thus, the problem is to motivate everyone, even though some are bound to achieve less than others. In tackling this problem, the type of feedback given is very important.

“Feedback given as rewards or grades enhances ego — rather than task — involvement. It can focus pupils’ attention on their ‘ability’ rather than on the importance of effort, damaging the self-esteem of low attainers and leading to problems of ‘learned helplessness’ (Dweck 1986).

“Feedback that focusses on the needs to be done can encourage all to believe that they can improve. Such feedback can enhance learning, both directly through the effort that can ensue, and indirectly by supporting the motivation to invest such effort.

“When feedback focusses on the student as a good or bad achiever, emphasising overall judgement by marks, grades or rank order lists, it focusses attention on the self (what researchers have called ego-involvement).

“A synthesis of 131 rigorous scientific studies showed this kind of feedback actually lowered performance (Kluger + DeNisi 1996). In other words, performance would have been higher if no feedback had been given.

“This is because such feedback discourages the low attainers, but also makes high attainers avoid tasks if they cannot see their way to success, for failure would be seen as bad news about themselves rather than an opportunity to learn.

“In contrast, when feedback focuses not on the person but on the strengths and weaknesses of the particular piece or work (task-involving feedback) and what needs to be done to improve, performance is enhanced, especially when feedback focuses not only what is to be done but also on how to go about it.

“Such feedback encourages all students, whatever their past achievements, that they can do better by trying, and that they can learn from mistakes and failures (see Dweck 1999).”

Quotes taken from:

Working Inside the Black Box, Dept of Education + Professional Studies, King’s College London by Paul Black, Christine Harrison, Clare Lee, Bethan Marshall and Dylan Wiliam

Mathematics Inside the Black Box, Dept of Education + Professional Studies, King’s College London, by Jeremy Hodgen and Dylan Wiliam.

❏ If this article was of interest, try… No prizes in points

❏ PiFactory’s descriptive grading rubrics can be found at: pifactory.net/catalog/assess_page_one.html

October 18, 2008 at 9:23 pm 1 comment

What really was the point?

Buy Homage to a Square tee-shirtBuy this design on a PiFactory tee-shirt

AT THIS year’s Commencement ceremony I idled the time reading the list of graduates. Names from the past triggered memories.

I watched the recalled names walk across the stage in cap, gown and garlands, looking so proud and so much taller than my memory. Was that really mischievous D’Arcy? He seemed so much smaller then, now he could cradle the principal under his chin.

Jeff, two years of struggle, of repeated assignments undone and promises of better to come and broken promises… who came alive when asked if he could help make a film about the math in Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia.

Ashley who tried so hard, turned everything in, pages and pages of detail and colorful annotations… and almost every answer not even within the realm of what we were doing. Lindsay, who would not move to the next question till the current question had been confirmed, pristine and correct in every way.

Kyle… Kyle… ah, yes, Kyle. Richard who was so correct, now sporting a giant mohican.

I wondered… do they remember anything whatsoever we struggled over? And, does it really matter?

The oh-so-important assignment, grade, topic, algorithm, nuance that seemed so damnedly frustrating and vital two, three years ago seemed so irrelevant now. Our year (or two) together through Indian fall, and the long, grey, wet months, praying for a snow day before seizing on an early glimmer of sun would, at best, be the briefest of memory. You remember that math teacher…?

Each semester I do a student feedback survey. It prompts some reflection and student self-assessment and seeks some feedback on the lessons, what worked, what didn’t. The memories are always a surprise… certainly not the meticulously-planned and brilliantly-executed three-part lesson.

It’s usually the spontaneous moment. The something that popped out of no-where, or, the go-with-the-flow moment or experiment. Lesson-of-the-day: Go with the flow.

Nik complained all year, when are you going to do those puzzles again? Next week. At last he spelled it out insistently… the three baby elephants, the telescope, tweezers and the jamjar. How do you catch three baby elephants and put them in a jamjar armed only with a pair of tweezers and a telescope before mummy and daddy elephant spot what you’re doing? Those thinking puzzles, the ones where the answer wasn’t the point. And remember, we needed to punch some holes in the jamjar lid. They really made him think, Nik explained.

What they all asked — Jeff, Kyle, Lindsay, Ashley, Nik, D’Arcy — is when are we going to use this in real life? And that is the question all math teachers need to ask… and be able to answer. That’s really the point. And depending on the answer, depends what students remember and take away from that walk across the Commencement platform.

If all we did was merely deliver the curriculum, they probably take away little if anything. If the answer is the purpose was to learn to think and be creative in problem solving and that all students will need such skills in real life, students may, it is to be hoped, take away something.

But, as Marie, our school psychologist, commented as students filed out: “They got here. We did our job.”

August 27, 2008 at 3:34 am Leave a comment

Older Posts


Categories

Recent Posts

The PiFactory archive