Just Try-It Tuesday: Learning Vs: Points

Grading tends to be a controversial topic among educators, and has been for quite some time. A lot of the controversy involves whether or not formative assessments (homework, practice, daily grades) should be included into grades, and if so, how much should they count? Some argue that only summative evidence (assessments that occur at the end of a learning cycle) should be included in the overall grade.    I don’t intend to open the entire can of worms in this post; I do want to pry the edge of the can open and peak inside to see if there is some common ground to be found.

 

TRY IT OUT Tuesday!

This Week’s Challenge:  Think about your assessment and grading practices.  Ask yourself: “What seems to be more important to your students Earning Points or Learning the Content?”  My challenge this week is to make sure your instructional practices are centered around learning – not just compliance.

 

The Point-centered Classroom VS the Learning-Centered Classroom

 

In the red corner, we have the Point-Focused Classroom where students only do formative work to earn points or avoid consequences.  Compliance seems to be more important than learning in these classrooms.

Practices that lead to the “point-focused” classroom:

  • Putting a number grade on everything.Image result for red boxer
  • Leaving kids out of assessment process.
  • Unclear criteria for success.
  • Vague or lack of communication of learning targets.
  • Lack of prescriptive feedback.
  • Praising students for high scores rather than focusing on the learning behind the scores.
  • Using grades  or work as punishment.
  • Strict Late work policies
  • No Re-do’s

Conversations that may occur in or about a “Point-Focused Class:”

 1. Student:  “Why do I have to do this?  I already know how to do this!”

     Teacher:  “You need to practice anyways, If you don’t you will get a zero.”

       2.  Student: “Why do I have to do this? I can’t do it, and I am just going to fail anyways.

     Teacher:  “You need to practice anyways, If you don’t you will get a zero.”

3.  Student:”Why do I have to do this! I don’t even care about (insert subject here).”

     Teacher: “It’s on the test.”

4. Teacher: “Doing this assignment is worth X points.  It will impact your grade greatly if you choose not to do it.”

5. Parent:  “I noticed my son has an F in (insert subject here), What is he struggling with, so I can help out at home?”

    Teacher: “He failed his last test and does not complete the homework.”

6. Parent: “Your grade in (insert subject here) is slipping. What do you need help on?”

    Student: “I dunno, my teacher says I just need to study and turn in my work on time.”

7.  Student 1: “Hey can I copy your homework from today, I already know this stuff, but don’t feel like doing; it’s a waste of time for me.”

     Student 2: “Sure, I don’t care.  I just did it so Mr. Price will stop griping at me.”

8. Student: “I didn’t do well on the test friday, but I went back and reread the chapter and did some practice problems     on my own I found on the internet. I think I get it now. Can I take the test again, or do another assignment?”

    Teacher: “No, the “F” you earned is a natural consequence of your lack of preparedness.  This will teach you to be responsible.”

Image result for blue boxing gloveIn the blue corner, we have the Learning-Focused classroom where students understand the work they do will contribute to learning the content.

Practices that lead to a learning-focused classroom:

  • Sharing clear learning targets with students.
  • Sharing criteria for success with students.
  • Creating rubrics with students.
  • Using “Anchor papers” to show students what each level of rubric looks like.
  • Train students to use rubrics to self and peer evaluate.
  • Students track assessment data and identify their own strengths and weaknesses.
  • Students, with help of a teacher, develops plan to address weaknesses.
  • Students receive prescriptive feedback on formative assessments.
  • Formative assessments are not graded, so students can focus on the prescriptive feedback, rather than an overall result.

Conversations that may occur in this type of classroom:

1. Student: “Why do I have to do this?  I already know how to do this?”

Teacher: “You need to know how to add fractions (Insert other knowledge/skill her) because, (insert reason that   involves real life application beyond a single test.)”

2. Student: “Why do I have to do this? I am just going to fail anyways.”

Teacher: “You aren’t doing this to pass or fail; you are doing this to practice and to find out what exact areas you may need extra help with that way  we can make sure that you do learn this concept.”

3.  Student:”Why do I have to do this! I don’t even care about (insert subject here).”

Teacher: “You aren’t doing this to pass or fail; you are doing this to practice and to find out what exact areas you may need extra help with that way  we can make sure that you do learn this concept.”

4. Teacher: “Completing today’s homework will help you understand (insert learning target here), if you feel you already have a grasp on the content you can come see me and show me evidence, then I will have an enrichment activity for you to do rather than the practice problems.”

5. Parent: “I noticed my son has an F in (insert subject here), What is he struggling with, so I can help out at home?”

Teacher: “Thanks for you concern! Your son is struggling with (insert specific learning target here), but seems to have a good understanding of (insert subject here). Here are some extra practice problems to do and a link to a video that explains the concept.  Once your son completes the practice and watches the video he can come in on his own time to be re-assessed on this target.”

6. Parent: “Your grade in (insert subject here) is slipping. What do you need help on?”

Student: “My tracking sheet says that I am struggling in (insert specific learning target here).”

Parent:  “You better ask your mom on that one; I forgot how to do that.”

7. Student 1: “Hey can I see your homework from last night, I forgot how to (insert specific learning target here).”

Student 2: “All you have to do is… (explains how to do problem).”

8. Student: “I didn’t do well on the test friday, but I went back and reread the chapter and did some practice problems     on my own I found on the internet. I think I get it now. Can I take the test again, or do another assignment?”

Teacher:  “Sure! I am glad you were responsible enough to re-learn the content on your own.  Your re-test will be more difficult than the original test. Since I don’t have time to create another test just for you, I will give you credit if you summarize what you know about this content in a 2 page report. Doing this will help me understand that you really do know your stuff, and help you remember being prepared the first time is easier than playing catch up.”

 

Results: Image result for winning a boxing match image

The winner is: Learning-Centered Classes!!! “The motivation for practicing and working hard should come from student’s having a clear understanding that it will contribute to learning.” – Ken O’Connor:  A Repair Kit for Grading (2011)

Fighters endure grueling workouts, exhaustive sparring sessions, and strict diets in order to prepare for a fight.  Elite athletes will tell you their motivation to put themselves through that type of work comes from a desire to get better.  When a fighter can connect the amount or type of training to success in an actual fight, you can be sure that he/she will 1: find value in the training itself and won’t need any tangible motivators and 2: will train with increased effort because the focus is on improvement.

Whatever your grading practices are, my intent is to find common ground that we should all be able to agree on.  Our classrooms ought be centered around learning VS. compliance.  Students who do work ONLY because of points or to avoid getting in trouble will not progress at the same rate as students who are training to get better. We can help students develop a “Growth Mindset,” by showing them that their efforts on formative assessments are directly connected to learning.

Students have been trained for a long time to do work in school for points or to avoid consequences.  We must re-train them to value learning over grades.  We can do this by letting assessment data speak for itself.  Improvement isn’t something that just happens. Students will eventually come to the realization that it is their efforts that determines the outcome, not their intelligence.

 

TRY IT OUT TuesdaybClosing Thoughts:

 

Think about your compliant students. Ask yourself: “Why are these students doing this work? Is it because they truly want to learn the content, or are they doing it to earn points?”  What actions have I done to motivate students to actually want to learn the content?.

Think about the students who often choose not to do the work. Ask yourself: “What is keeping these students from doing the work?  Is it because they want to avoid doing work in which they know they will fail? Are they in a hole so deep that earning points are meaningless to them? Have they had opportunities to connect their efforts with success? When discussing assessment results, do we focus too much on grades? Or do we emphasize the value of learning the content?

I would love to say that any of the suggestions will turn all of your unmotivated students into enthusiastic go-getters instantaneously.  Unfortunately,  I don’t think that is the case. For some, changing their mindset will be a slow process.  There are a lot of behaviors and habits to unlearn that are the result of spending year in points-centered classrooms.  What works for some students many not work for all.  If there is one certainty in education, it is that there are very few simple solutions. 

* Update: 2/25/16

In order to help clarify my main point, I wanted to add a recent experience to illustrate why I think Learning Centered classrooms are more effective than Point-Centered classrooms.

I coach a U12 soccer team and had practice last night- the first of the season.  We did several activities designed for the players to practice their ball control and passing and receiving the ball.  I made it a point to constantly remind the players what I was looking for exactly.  A few of the coaching points I made:

  • Firm passes – with just the right amount of speed.
  • Dribbling with the head up to see the field and passing options.
  • Receiving passes with a soft touch away from pressure.

We eventually progressed through some activities and began playing a small-sided game 4V4.  Now the players were trying to score goals like a normal soccer game.  Although they were playing the game, I still offered feedback while they were playing that dealt only with the coaching points above.  I let players know when they met the target and when they didn’t I coached over the game to give them feedback.

At one point in the game, a player (we will call him, “Johnny”) in-bounding the ball noticed that the defense was out of position, and instead of simply passing the ball to a nearby wide-open player, he attempted a difficult shot from all the way down the field and missed.  The following dialogue occurred after:

Johnny’s teammate: “Johnny! why’d you do that!”

Johnny: “I was trying to score, so we can win!”

Johnny’s teammate: “We aren’t doing this to win, we are working on passing!”

The point I am trying to make isn’t whether Johnny should of passed it or not. There are many reasons why he probably should of shot it.The point is Johnny’s teammate is clearly approaching the small-sided game differently than Johnny.

Johnny just wants to win. He isn’t necessarily thinking about his passing, or any other coaching points; he is going to do whatever he thinks will help him win. For him winning is more important than the actual improvement.

Johnny’s teammate on the other hand recognizes that the small sided game is an opportunity to practice and improve a specific skill.  Being mindful of this – will perhaps help him reflect on his own play, take more risks, and actively try to improve a skill.

Johnny is a great player, but I fear his focus on “winning” or “points” can distract him from deliberately trying to improve.

As coaches and teachers, we can shape our classrooms and train our students to focus on improvement during practice.  When we practice (formative  activities/assessments), it is okay to take risks, fail, and struggle.  In fact I would argue that those are essential to learning. It is when we actually play the game (or the summative test) that winning becomes the goal .

 

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2 thoughts on “Just Try-It Tuesday: Learning Vs: Points

  1. The learning-centered method might work in a small-group setting with very intrinsically-motivated students, but unfortunately that is not how our public school system is set up. We have student loads of 150+, and don’t have time for individual attention most of the time. Add in an EOI and the collapsed time-table that comes with state testing, we (as teachers) are in a bit of a quagmire.

    I also don’t think that compliance is as bad as you make it seem. Most of the time, students don’t know what they are good at or what they will enjoy. This is especially true in both Science and Mathematics. Most students enjoy History, English, or their elective, but ask them if they enjoy their Math or Science classes. I would be willing to bet almost none would say it is fun or enjoyable. Part of that is Math and Science take more focused practice to get, but part of it is a mindset as a society. If students come in with a bias against those classes, no amount of “coming up with a plan to address weaknesses” will help them. They simply don’t want to do it. So what then? The only way to get the students to learn something is by forcing them.

    Remember, as teachers, we are their parents once they step on the school grounds. As with parenting, the motivated students will be easy to teach, and the plan to help them is rather lax and easy as well. The problem comes with the students who don’t want to learn or are convinced that they can’t do it. We’ve all had things that our parents made us do that we didn’t like at the time. However, most of us are thankful now that they made us do them. We are here to PUSH students to meet HIGH expectations, not let them be okay with meeting lower expectations.

    Anyways, that’s my rant. Maybe it helped, maybe not. However, I feel that a lot of teachers probably feel this way.

    • I agree with much of what you say. Especially the bit about teachers being in a quagmire!!!

      I don’t think any of what I am talking about will come easy at all. I also understand that many (most) of our students are not intrinsically motivated. That is really the whole point – How do we get more students intrinsically motivated?

      I also agree that compliance isn’t a bad thing – it is definitely a step above non-compliance. However, I would argue that when students focus primarily on improving their skills or deepening knowledge , they will learn more.

      I agree with your point about pushing kids and maintaining high expectations. I don’t think any of the practices I mention involving a learning-center classroom indicates that I am interested in letting them off the hook. In fact what I discuss would often result in more work for resistant students.

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