Friday, January 13, 2006

Excellent or Unacceptable

This post from math teacher Darren Kuropatwa made me think of our discussions surrounding assessment, late work, etc.:
The idea is to get the students to focus all their energies on learning. Here's how it works: I reproduce an old exam, slap a cover page on it, and tell the students that they have a week or so to do the whole thing. It's worth 5% of their class mark. (In my class anyway. Other teachers handle the marks differently.) They're allowed to get help from each other, other students in other classes, me, other teachers in the building as often as they like. They can even submit it early, ask me to review it and check if there are any errors. If there are they can redo the work until it's perfect. Here are the Assignment Conditions from the cover page:
» You Must Get 100%
»You must solve all questions perfectly showing all work; even for multiple choice questions.
»You may get help from the teacher as often and as much as you like.
»All work must be presented clearly, neatly and easy to read.
»Anything less than EXCELLENCE is unacceptable!

Remember, luck has nothing to do with it. It's all about doing your best!

He calls this Go for Gold! Here's the part I really like:

There are only two possible marks for this assignment: Excellent! (100%) or Unacceptable (0%).

I used to have a slightly tongue in cheek homemade poster on the wall of my classroom that said "Perfection is our goal. Excellence will be tolerated." I really like the idea of there only being two possible outcomes - excellent or unacceptable. I know it may be unrealistic to expect that all the time (due to time constraints on our part), but I think for a "reviewing for finals" assignment like this, it's an especially good idea.


  1. If this idea is created and fostered in the right learning environment, I think it's awesome. What I really like is that every student, no matter their skills, can achieve success. It might take them a little longer using a few more resources, but they know that if they take those steps, they can be excellent.

    In terms of slackers/irresponsibility...if students were "forced" to do assignments over until they were perfect, I think many students would learn very quickly that it's worth their time to do it right the first time.

    The challenge is for teachers to really choose appropriate and meaningful assignments.

    This seems to fit in line with essential learnings. If we do a good job identifying what we want all students to learn, why shouldn't we give them every opportunity to do just that?

  2. In many ways this is what many elementary teachers do for their students. No assignment is done until it is done right. I think for course reviews is would be a great way for students to prepare for finals. I agree witih Cara that it would address the essential learnings as well.

  3. Let me preface this comment by saying that my English class (and most English classes at Arapahoe, I believe), focus on the process or writing, rather than the final product. However, I don't think the all-or-nothing grading system would work for English, where we flip the bird at terms like "right" and "wrong" (yet we find the term "flip the bird" perfectly acceptable). We do ask students to revise their work continually, but I can't imagine giving someone a 0% because they had a few boring verbs or an improperly used semicolon. I've written hundreds of essays, and I would never say that any one of them is a 100%. Each essay I write hopefully creates a little ghost that will help me write my next essay. That's all I can ask for.

  4. I agree with Kristin and believe that this is a great idea but am not sure about the large applications of this towards some assingments. I think it is a good idea to do content things where kids are needing to demonstrate knowledge they have learned but am not sure on a broader scale. Something to think about that is for sure!

  5. Intereting idea. Yet when perfection is the only good option, we also see the stresses of perfectionists. The last few years, Ive had a few students who have had unbelievable meltdowns over missing single points. It seems as if there was a life lesson they needed to learn that involved being able to handle less than 100% given that life will deal them many imperfections.

  6. I don't think I would apply this to "process" type assignments at all - only to assignments with very concrete questions, and probably only to review-type assignments like this one. Where it truly is just a matter of the student taking the time - and making the effort - to make sure they have gone over everything thoroughly (and where they could get unlimited help).

    Having said that, I see a distinction between "perfection" and "excellence." Just like in Kristin's classes where they revise their work continually, we should simply be asking them to revise their work until they (with some input from us) feel it is excellent. And I, of course, wouldn't look at it in terms of 0% or "meltdowns over single points." The reason they do that is because we've trained them to focus on the points. The points don't matter! Maybe if we get rid of the points, those "perfectionists" will react differently . . .