What are we doing?

If we are going to grade, better said as assess, a student’s progress along a continuum of learning, then we have to repurpose our notion of grading.

Learning is never really graded in life and it certainly isn’t taken out of its context though learning in school is compartmentalized into content areas.  I cannot recall a time in my life when I said, “Hey, it is time to learn just about math.” without having a reason for learning it.  Yet, in the segmented day of a student, we say this is the right way to learn.  While separating the content into different classes seems the right thing to do, students really don’t know how it relates to real life and they certainly are not mastering what is taught.  Instead, students are progressing through grades as if they have mastered the learning targets completely taking the context out of learning.

Can we really say this truly describes what a student has learned?

If we are going to say that a child has learned then we have to discuss the value of a grade.  I contend there is no value to a letter grade because it is a letter, and while there is a shift to go to standards based grading there is no value in assigning a standard a grade when the standard is a descriptive of what students should demonstrate while learning. This is the key.  Standards are not grades and they are not curriculum.  Standards describe what should be learned.

Jay McTighe, co-author of Understanding by Design, is writing a series of blog posts on Edutopia.  One post, “Common Core Big Idea Series 2: cameraThe Standards Are Not Curriculum,” quotes the Common Core: Math – “These Standards do not dictate curriculum or teaching methods.” (p 5).  In other words, we cannot turn the Common Core into what and how to teach.  If we do, then we blur the lines between what is being taught and how to measure it.  It is the blurring of this line that causes us to give a letter grade based on something that can only be described.

Student’s learning should be described in a talent based model from novice to expert.  The descriptions should be comprehensive factoring in the backwards design principles espoused by McTighe and Wiggins.  Comprehensive descriptions allow teachers, principals, curriculum directors and superintendents the capacity to create a vision of how student’s learning is to be observed as they learn.  These qualitative discussions are the foundation for demanding learning expectations for students to achieve and the means by which to assess accurately.

If we keep grading by assigning points to every product a student creates and never describe the learning as a continuum and assess based off these descriptions, then students will never truly be able to evaluate their own learning wondering how well they have learned.  We do them a disservice allowing them to misunderstand a grade thinking they met or did not meet the learning goals.

Students aren’t scores

I have long concerned myself with the notion of grading, its need, it accuracy, and its future.  Grading is a long standing, though never ending, train every teacher must have an engine for and a caboose that always comes last.

»Why grade

If grading is such a drudgery, why do teachers take so much time doing it?  In part, it is part of the job.  The greater need to grade is knowing how well students are performing.

»Learning is continuum

A grade is supposed to give feedback to the student about how his/her progress.  Notice progress is a key word meaning continuum.  Every grade a child receives on work is mostly directed back as a number.  That number is supposed to indicate to the child his or her score.  I contend that the score is arbitrary because of the teacher.  To grade work out of ten seems negligent to me.  The negligence comes not in the number but in the willingness of an educator to design the learning backwards, and in backwards planning the end state of learning is first described as goals and the goals drive the instruction and assessment.  I am not sure this is what really happens because I am guilty of this myself, so I am being self critical of my own practice.  If the design is sound and the learning plan is sound, then the assessment, formative or summative, is substantiated and a learning continuum is generated.  Yet, if the end learning state is not described ahead of time for what a student is supposed to do, then the entire process is flawed.

»Ain’t nothin new

What I am saying isn’t anything new, but what I do believe there is a much better way to assess student growth.  When was the last time you were a number and someone said to you that your learning was a number?  As I went through school, I used to see numbers on my tests and homework never knowing quite what it meant other than I did well or not so well.  Learning cannot be quantified and for years the prescribed practice is to quantify as numbers.  What really is 56% of learning, or 100% of learning?  Isn’t that the ability to give a teacher an answer they want to see as being correct.  So why not say I earned a 100% of what teachers wanted to see?  That sounds much more reasonable and that, in my opinion, is what grading has come to.

»Enter standardized tests

I can hear a family talking about how the son or daughter or both didn’t make the cut off score for a state given test in which there were only two hours afforded to demonstrate an entire year, or years, worth of learning.  The family is likely to feel shame and the child is feeling worthless and dreading coming back to school because now they have to meet with intervention specialists to help them pass the test.  Don’t pass that up too quickly…help them pass the test.  Not learn.  Pass the test.  How is our system of education able to justify quantifying the total sum of a student’s learning in one year in one test just to prove they can pass the test?   Tests can’t, but somehow it is said they do.  I teach where the entire focus of a school year is teaching to a test with with little windfall focus on learning (my opinion, not my district’s).  Learning is about being led, coached, inspired, frustrated, and challenged to think differently, creatively, innovatively, and authentically.

»Points stink, talent is better

Points, unless there is a 1:1 correlation to work or assessment, are arbitrary and the vague meaning of those points leads to the real confusion about what kids really know, and parents to have a false sense about their child’s true ability.  For years I sat in conferences saying to parents, “This is really how your child performs…”  Pause a moment to think:  every year a child goes to a new teacher, who has to learn a child, the child has to learn the teacher, and the entire year is a sprint to get through curriculum.  Sound right?  This is based on points but I, and you, don’t live life by earning points.  We live life by working to get better and when we take time to work at getting better, our competence grows, and when our competence grows, we are developing our talent in that area.  A talent based model would serve as a better platform for describing learning vs. quantifying.  Lets develop talent based measures that describe how kids are really performing in relation to learning goals that cause critical thinking, creativity, and innovation.  These measures, or rubrics, help us measure growth over time when applied with repeated instance.  Now we have a better profile of the student as a learner and not as a student as a score.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/swafo/22892239/”>(Alex)</a&gt; via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;

Let the conversation begin!!

Two-people-talking-logo
By Selena Wilke (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

me: i’m here

Denise: I thought the 3rd one could use Glogster.
me: Glogster would be perfect for the third one.
In Glogster, kids can import pics, YouTube videos and more.

Denise: I’m thinking about using the iPad for apps and then the netbooks for other activities. I just feel like I have no time to prepare anything besides pencil and paper.
HOw else could I use youtube?
I need to get an account for Glogster right?

me: What do you mean using iPad for apps? I’ll do some brainstorming for the other two ideas. One of your CC goals is to have kids create webs. I have a few ways for kids to do that together.

Denise: That would be cool- I was thinking pearltrees?

me: No, you don’t need a Glogster acct. I have a subscription and can add your kids to it.
Pearltrees would be a great idea! Pearltrees is about creating webs using websites by Pearling them.

Denise: Do you know how to create an app? I thought that could be cool and see how the kids could run with it- more of a small group enrichment for accel.

me: BRB. I am going to check in Chrome Webstore for app creators.

Denise: cool

me: Ok, can’t find anything right now, but there might be something out on the web.
for which of the activities do you want kids to create an app?

Denise: I’m basically trying to start a doc for major lit skills that students are not really grasping well yet, and then work on others. my goal is to have parents in during EI to monitor and help guide these activities. I think the other I’d really like to work on is vocab. THey never do too well, so I want to use tech to increase abilities. I guess I could start with vocab games, but would like to do more.
For the view selected movie clips could this be on my youtube channel? Need huge refresher on that.

me: I have a perfect solution for game making. It is called Zondle and I am using it right now with Bev Cornett.

Denise: let’s do it. If she has the same planning as me I will come down when you’re already scheduled with her.

me: YouTube is a great place to find movie clips and add to your channel. Plus, the kids can go back and watch it whenever they want. What would you think about creating your own videos to put on YT to help teach or refresh what kids are learning in class? I found a piece of hardware I want to order that would help you do this.

Denise: why not. is it possible to use the wingclip videos in my youtube channel or is this something I’d have to link to Moodle? I’d like to streamline as much as possible. I guess I could link youtube channel to moodle?
not familiar with go animate- that’s an app?
btw I’m logging this as PLC- i will share the form with you.