by Dawn Casey-Rowe, Social Studies Teacher & Learnist Evangelist
Education is all about the numbers these days. My personal preference is just the opposite.
I have this fantasy where I toss grades in the garbage. In this dream, I let everyone redo things and have conferences to discuss improvement.
“You want an A? Sure.” I’d say. “Redo this paper. Yes, the one that looks like you used it to wrap a sandwich. Get it back to me. We can discuss it and make sure you really improved on some research and writing concepts.” After all, it’s the skills that matter most. I discussed this with my classes recently.
“What skills do you think I’m trying to teach you?” They looked at me. “If I threw away the content I’m teaching, and taught you–anything. Science, math, phys ed, literature…the subject isn’t important…what skills would I still be teaching? What would you be able to do when you leave?”
“Um,” one brave student volunteered, “Speaking? You want us to be able to speak in public and pitch an idea?”
Excellent. This is true. It is the rare person who loves public speaking and elevates it to an art. The rest, we suffer through. I am consciously teaching this skill. It fits nicely with social studies.
“Yes, but why?” The why is always the most important part. We always have to look at the “why.”
“Because I can get a job or get into college or get funding or convince someone?” Exactly right. Politicians use this, media uses this, and corporate CEOs use this. A good speaker is worth his or her weight in gold.
“Exactly. What else do I want you to know and be able to do?” Students start throwing out answers.
“Math. You want us to look at the charts and graphs and be able to understand them.”
This is true. Another good answer. We discuss how we need to use the numbers. That often times students think that just because something’s in print it must be gospel. Not true. Perspective and spin apply to statistics as well. We discuss the skill of evaluating sources, choosing the correct ones for the purpose–whether it’s numbers or text–and making them work in the situation.
Finally, we discuss innovation. “Remember, this is the critical piece. I want you to be able to think outside the box and do. If you can do these things, you’re far ahead of your competition. The world is changing. You need to have confidence with these skills and you will always have the advantage.” I tell them how, in my grandfather’s day, people worked for one company and retired. Then during my dad’s generation, people might have a couple of jobs then save and retire.
In my time, many of us, midway through our work experience, have switched entire fields and careers at least once, and that there is little loyalty left–everyone–employers and employees–looks out for themselves. My generation is the first generation that constantly needs to reinvent ourselves and look for new skills.
My students’ generation will take this a step further. It’ll be the generation of freelancers and entrepreneurs. The generation that has to piece together skills and make it work. It’s also a transitional generation where many will self-direct pieces of their education and traditional certifications may not always be required. I need to teach them to seek out and apply this knowledge.
This strategy works. Students buy into these skills. I underscore them often pointing out where we can insert various skills into lessons. Because students see the value, they often redo their work with the aim of mastery. We have real conversations about all the assignments along with assigning a number or letter grade. It’s tough to define someone with a letter, but currently, it must be done. There needs to be some way to show growth and measure students.
We do this through assessment. Sadly, assessment isn’t always employed correctly. It sometimes gets over, under, or misused. Assessment should work seamlessly into the classroom routine. The traditional test can be intrusive and stressful. True assessment flows into the lessons and gives a constant pulse on student learning.
Here are some techniques that can help to master assessments. There are many types of assessments to use in different situations. Teachers don’t have to correct for hours to get the benefit of learning what students have mastered. Perhaps you have some ideas for assessment, or specific assessments that have worked for you? Please consider making a learnboard for them or sharing them on one of these boards using the “+add to this board feature to share your classroom victories.
Formative assessments don’t have to be difficult. This board has simple activities to help teachers assess whether students are learning the material. Assessing student knowledge can be very easy if practiced throughout the lesson.
This board has number of ways to determine if lessons are reaching students. There are free formative assessment tools and FAQs about assessment, as well as one killer download of a compendium of formative assessment and questioning resources so great that it’s worth it’s weight in gold.
Rubrics help bring the objectivity back to grading. They help set criteria that’s objective, so students and teachers get a clear idea about how the grading will be done. A well-designed rubric keeps expectations consistent and saves time in the long run.
Socrative turns any phone or computer into a tool for polls and formative assessment. Students can answer questions or polls, both in real-time or over time.
Metryx allows teachers to track students over time, and formulates reports that are easy to use so teachers can see areas of opportunity for student learning. Looking at the data patterns often highlights an area we might otherwise miss, and helps us fine-tune instruction at the class or individual level, which is critical to maximizing our effectiveness.
5 Fundamental Assessment Resources From Learnist; image attribution flickr users quinn.anya and jfkid