Posts filed under ‘Assessment and grading’

The Freedom to Fail…

is central to success. ?!

Leading the lesson with that caused looks of confusion in my somewhat stressed students as we near the end of a major project. It’s important for me to realized too. I have to allow students to choose to fail. If there is no possibility that anyone will fail, success has no real meaning. And I am making myself responsible for all student work and taking on the onus. Plus it would make me super-stressed and really (even more) annoying, nagging them to death and um, treating them like I didn’t trust them.

Of course I’m going to support students, check in with them, break down tasks and deadlines and most importantly, talk to each individual group in this last project-work lesson. “How are you?” “What’s your panic level?” “What is next on your check list?” “Want me to look over your written section for suggestions?” (note NOT to re-grade stuff, that entirely changes the vibe.) “What are your plans to get this done with each other at home?” I also go round and distribute the rubric for the finished project to keep them focussed on what is required. Having kids share documents for color printing is a good way for me to give a last look at their work too.

We had a bit of a laugh looking at Tim Urban’s TED talk “Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinator” too.

I thought they would be tempted to spend way too much time decorating their poster board or to stick on random pictures just to make it look pretty. But in fact it was more like they didn’t want me to bug them – too busy getting it done.

It is SO hard to resist the urge to nag, require, boss and take over their decisions. I feel like a bad teacher if they are just standing about chatting when they could be working. Especially students who have been struggling. But when I think of how I learned not to procrastinate, I had to really feel the pain to make a change worthwhile.

I used to let grading pile up by the end of each quarter and then have a last-minute, late night frenzy, giving kids grades based on what was bad because I was too tired to notice what was good and give encouragement. Then they’d get their work back weeks after they did it, and would only look at the grade and not pay any attention to the other feedback. It was all long past. So it damaged relationships with my students which then resulted in tense parent exchanges too. It was ultimately enough pain to start to challenge the urge to procrastinate.

But the other piece was more positive: Barbara Nagle, a former chemistry teacher and mentor said that she was really curious to know how her students had done on an assignment right after they handed it in, and I noticed that’s when I was most motivated too. So I tried it after a particularly brutal end-of-term grading thrash. There’s also when I started to made more careful decisions for what to grade and not to grade. I write rubrics and/or a model answer for most pieces of work now. But I also just get on with it, (the mantra of – British psychotherapists ūüôā grading work often during seat work time in class, which allows me to give students one-on-one verbal feedback to save me the time of writing it down. Plus tone of voice can soften criticism to become coaching, and if I lead with curious questions, I often uncover what was going on with a child who’s done a horrible piece of work. Saves accidentally smacking a kid down when their dog has just died etc. ¬†I know. It was sometimes horrifying how close I’d come to doing that in the press of work and hurry and stress.

I do have one student who is driving me crazy right now – bright, friendly guy but does nothing. Nothing. Just hangs out and shoots the breeze with anyone who will listen. I keep talking to him – checking he gets the big picture and try to help him feel how great it would be to have a project to show his parents etc. Come to think of it, I have two more who will probably end up with nothing much. Worked with them all today trying to structure tasks with them, one piece at a time. One did quite a bit and gave me a hug at the end. The other drew a picture of an eagle instead… But would nagging them make any real difference other than window-dressing with a ‘project’ that was basically done by me/parents/special ed colleagues? And would it do actual harm – helping to form entitled, lazy and ultimately unhappy young adults?

I do feel that it’s a genuine gift – the freedom for my students to feel the pain, visualize and to choose to avoid it, or learn from it. It’s good for me to remind myself that I’m in it for the bigger goal of preparing them for their adult lives, and it’s good for me to grip the controls a little more lightly – like riding a mountain bike over rough ground. ¬†It’s not a free-for-all, it’s not chaos. My feet are definitely not up on the desk. And there are boundaries – no distracting other groups for example. And no chopping worms in half. But that’s another story.

 

 

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March 21, 2019 at 3:25 PM Leave a comment

Proposals – The Real World Bites

Preparing kids for the dog-eats-dog real world of work…

Continue Reading October 10, 2016 at 11:55 AM Leave a comment

Working Less, Kids Learning More with PBL

Working less for more engagement and more science content covered even with PBL.

Continue Reading September 19, 2016 at 1:46 PM Leave a comment

Using a Sibling Sense of Fairness for Science

Conclusions have always been a boring minefield. What did you find out? How sure are you? And kids always say either ‘very sure (because can’t be bothered to think too hard and don’t want to admit to playing with their cell phones under the desk the whole period) or some kind of pat answer like ‘we could have made sure to time it better’. But most really don’t get that analyzing an experiment for uncontrolled variables is an application of the sibling rivalry keen “It’s not fair!” And it’s usually not. Remember when you got to stay up later than I ever did at your age, Diana? Let’s not get into who sits by the window on car trips…

So Dr. Stupid came in today to drop rulers through children’s hands to find the effect of light level on reaction times as a practice run to remind students how to identify the experimental and responding variables, and how to spot the unfairness aka the uncontrolled variables and other bad practice. Then I assessed them on “Who has faster reaction times – boys or girls?” using the “A Grading Policy”. And that’s working out okay too – I get a quick snapshot of who gets it without getting mired in a point for this and not for that tedium. The repairs and redos will be on Monday after¬†coaching¬†while¬†the kids who pass do¬†science news activity.

At the end, they wrote “The ice cube¬†experiment we did was unfair because….”

Seriously better than previous years. Really cool to point out how naturally they are scientists. And much more fun, especially sharing unfair sibling stories, some of which are at least perceived as wildly unfair. Justice: let’s play that forward too.

September 7, 2016 at 11:39 AM Leave a comment

“A” Grading Policy

Don’t you hate “What do I do to get an “A”? Bright kids who just want to get the points and seem¬†too stressed to give a rip about the actual learning? The standard way of grading is as hard on the straight-A student as on the kids who feel daily judged by a big, fat “D” on their foreheads. Kids who define their own selves as “I’m a C student.”

It’s time to change this.

We¬†looked at a “No Grade” policy where students get written or verbal feedback and a notation about if they handed work in or not. But our community is not ready for that yet. Btw, you can find out more from this readable and inspiring book: “Hacking Assessment: 10 Ways to go Graceless in a Traditional Grades School” by Starr Sakstein from the Hack Learning Series 2015.

Instead, we are going for “A” Grading Policy in an attempt to combine the best of both worlds. It works like this:

All assignments are graded on a 4 point scale, including assessments, projects, homework and class assignments. Students and parents will see their scores on tests and on rubrics but the scores will not be entered in the grade book. Students will keep a portfolio in their Google drive and a paper file in class. 

  • A “Pass” means they met the benchmark standard (perhaps a standard ‘B’). They get comments for excellent or bare minimum, comments for what could be improved. ¬†P = 4 pts.
  • “Repair” means there is something fairly small missing or misunderstood. They can repair the work and re-submit within a week for a full Pass. R = 3 pts
  • “Redo” means there is a lot missing and/or significant misunderstandings. Students resubmit the entire assignment within a week to raise their grade to a Pass. Re = 2 pts
  • “Missing” means no work recorded for a week after it was due. M = 0 pts. Missing work can be caught up to full credit
  • “Late” means no work recorded after a week overdue. L = ¬†0 pts. Late work can be caught up to 3 pts.
  • “Excused” is self-explanatory.

Our hope is that what we measure is what we will get – that students see the value in putting in the effort, in taking risks and learning from mistakes. And that’s exactly what is required in innovative companies, in project based learning and well, in life really. Stay tuned for how this goes in our suburban, high-achieving district.

 

September 1, 2016 at 10:54 AM 2 comments

PBL 101 with the Buck Institute, the Genuine Gold Standard in PBL

Report with all kinds of v. useful links to a million PBL resources.

Continue Reading June 16, 2016 at 2:07 PM 1 comment

Back to the past in future…

Old fashioned notebooks and whiteboards make for a more flexible and friendly classroom, here’s what we are trying in the 7th grade…

Continue Reading February 7, 2015 at 6:50 PM Leave a comment

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