Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Are we asking the right questions?

This week, #ILEdChat had a discussion on rethinking our grading practices. (You can see the archive of the chat here). Grading has always been, and I think will always be, a touchy subject. It has to do with the concept of a grade and what a grade means. Ideally, I think a grade should be a reflection of the level of mastery for the content or skill. One of my #ILEdChat partners, Linsy, pushed my thinking further with the reminder that it should be a reflection of mastery based on a predefined learning standard, outcome, skill, or target. This is an essential piece of the learning process for the students. We, as educators, need to make sure that the students know and understand expectations of their growth and development and we should NOT make them try to hit a moving target.

Grades seem terminal. They are final. Once that letter or number is inscribe in red ink on the top of the page, there is nothing that can be done to change it. This is why feedback should be the term that we are using with students. Feedback provides the students ideas on their attainment of mastery, areas where they can improve, and most importantly, a chance to activate those ideas and help their own thinking grow, develop, and change. This concept of feedback can be analogized to the use of a doctor. We go to the doctor to provide us with feedback on our current state of health. Recommendations are provided for improvement. Sometimes, something stronger, like medicine, is provided to help us move back towards the goal is we are off course. A grade seems more like the coroner performing an autopsy and saying "this poor guy should have changed X, Y, and Z a long time ago". There is a much longer blog post about formative and summative assessment in here, but we will get to that later.

Unfortunately, too many times grades end up representing either an attempt on completing an assignment, an arbitrary conversion of a look at that completion to a number out of ten, or the ability to hand in a piece of paper at a given time and date. I will admit, my thoughts have changed an evolved on this topic as my experiences have helped me learn throughout my years. I am not proud to admit it, but I have committed the above acts before. One of the most important things I have learned is that grades should not be a punishment.

In a different chat, educators were continuing the conversation about grading and one of the questions that came up was what policies about what type of grading practices motivate students to work harder and want to improve and learn more? It was the idea of altering a grading policy to improve student motivation instantly provoked to ideas:

  1. Tougher punishments will prevent crime -- While I think this may hold true for those afraid of the punishment, it clearly does not work for all. Education needs to be for all...not just those who "play school well".
  2. This was the other idea...

Img Src:


After I chuckled and winced at my ability to amuse myself, I had the thought: Are we asking the right question? Why are we trying to find more stringent ways of reviewing work to improve student motivation to want to do better? Let's alter our own thinking and try something different...

Let's change our question to what kind of assessments/learning opportunities will provide students a method they choose to demonstrate their level of mastery? What if we provided more authentic learning opportunities than the summative/final multiple choice exam, with little or no opportunity for improvement?

I would think that if students have a voice in their learning and in how they demonstrate that learning, the motivation takes care of itself. The examples abound in standards based learning, genius hour, passion projects, choose-your-own-adventure learning. The variety of potential products from students might seem overwhelming, but this is where we go back to the initial idea of the purpose of a grade: "a measurement of student attainment at a predetermined point of predetermined skills" (quoted from Linsy Stumpenhorst on Twitter, 8/29/16).

The variety can be as wide as the day is long, but the expectations for the work can be clearly define in rubrics that provide support to the students in how to demonstrate their learning. There should be check-ups (doctor analogy again) with the students to monitor their progress, provide support, and, in more severe cases, some medication (intervention, resources, additional structure).

Let's see if we can change our question to achieve the desired outcomes.

No comments: