Guest Blogger: Jenny Seidel, Cohort 2
We’ve all heard it before from a parent: “Why Mrs. Jones, I just don’t understand why my son has a ‘C’ in your class. Johnny has ALWAYS had an ‘A’ in Spanish. Johnny is really struggling this semester in your class . . .” And typically, we as teachers walk away from these conversations wondering what we are doing differently than the last teacher. “Am I really that much harder? My expectations seem pretty reasonable. What is the value of a grade after all?”
As I walk away from our presentation and discussion with Tony Winger, I feel like I just had a series of “AH – HA!” moments. I also enjoyed watching the perma-grin on Karl’s face as he so evidently agreed with Tony’s thoughts, ideas and suggestions about learning, understanding and assessment. This was a very thought provoking presentation on student evaluation and I do not think anyone walked away without self-reflecting.
So let me get this straight and please forgive me for sounding like such a novice in education. The shift in assessment is to focus on learning? What sounds so incredibly basic and obvious is, in fact, a challenging strategy to implement in teaching . . . and something that I feel many of us do not do. To paraphrase Tony Winger and interpret what I heard is that students’ grades primarily reflect their knowledge, understanding, essential learnings and application of the material. The shift is going from categorizing their skills from “Tests, quizzes, homework, participation, etc.” to “Understanding, knowledge, responsibility.” The task at hand is to go away from awarding As and Bs to students who know nothing and can’t apply the information, but can play the game well, (and students who get Ds and Fs and actually know something, but do not show the work habits to obtain higher grades) and let the grades reflect knowledge, by golly!
Again, sounds simple, but think about your own grading system. Do students really learn or just learn to play the game? Do your assessments require them to memorize for a test or really apply the concepts taught in class? Does your extra credit extend your essential learnings or allow them to earn random points to raise their grades? What is the role of homework if the students know that we only view it as a work in progress? Will they put in an adequate amount of effort and thought to their work? When a student does not do well on an assessment, do you raise his grade if he chooses to learn from his mistakes (for the sake of learning) or do you call assessments a one time deal? Are your expectations and explanations clear to your students about what you value in assessments and how you evaluate? Is life about learning the system and playing the game? Or is it about really understanding the task at hand and applying the concepts learned? I know I am reiterating some of the questions that arose today, but they are the ones still running through my mind.
As I write this, I realize that someone outside of education may criticize us for not focusing assessment solely on learning. In fact, I am questioning myself right now and some of my common practices. We get caught up in wanting to hold students accountable for their actions, responsibility, timeliness and work habits in an effort to teach them how to be good citizens and prepare them to be young professionals. The shift here is to still hold them accountable for being responsible students, but realizing that maintaining strong learning habits does not necessarily reflect their internalization of the material. What exactly is it that we want them to walk away with from our classes and know next week, next year, in college, as an adult . . . and do their grades reflect their grasp of these concepts? That’s the ultimate question here . . .