Showing posts from July, 2015

The Grading Monster

This is a story of a idea that grew up and got bigger and eventually took over a population.  The idea was to use grades to classify a student's ability.  This idea has grown into the the current Grading Monster that we have today.

       The origins of this idea, attributed to William Farish, seemed innocent enough--find a way for teachers to teach more students.  But what it did, instead, was to separate the important student-teacher relationship that had symbolized teaching for most of the 10,000 years prior.

     It would be fair to say that grades have overtaken the main purpose of schooling--which is to learn.  Of course this is not true for all students, but when students complain about academic performance, their complaint is much more commonly about their grade than about the learning that did or did not take place.

       Parents tell their children to get good grades rather than to learn a lot.  And when grades are low, discussions about how grades are determin…

Building the Academic Strength of Our Weakest Students

School is about learning.  And most students do fine when it comes to learning what they need to learn in school.  For most students, its not a matter of passing or failing; its more a matter of learning very well or not learning so well.  But for some of our students, keeping up-to-speed in their reading, writing, and mathematics skills as they go through their middle and high school years is difficult.  As a public school system, a lot of effort is focused on helping these students to improve their skills.  This is an important mandate in every public school.

       We know from research that students who are below grade level in reading by the end of third grade often struggle with their reading skills throughout the rest of their P-12 schooling experience.  (link to study)  They are also more likely to leave school without a high school diploma.  Difficulties in learning mathematics have been similarly well documented.  Students with weak math skills also struggle in high s…

Make Math Meaningful: Math Tasks

The days of the boring worksheets in math class and the word problems about the train leaving New York are over.

       Well...actually, they're not over.  But they should be over.

       We already know that most students (and adults) do not learn new things very well just by listening to someone explaining it; after which the teacher often says something like, "Does anyone have any questions?"  This is when the students want to say, "How can we have any questions about this?  You just taught it to us one minute ago.  (And then they get a worksheet.)

       This is passive learning.  This learning promotes adherence to procedures and getting-the-right-answer over true learning and understanding.  Some students do fine and some students do not; and it is simply not acceptable to engage in teaching strategies that don't help all of our students.

       Math classes should be places where students are actively engaged in their learning.  Students are presen…

Educational Testing Should be Compared to a Health Check-up

There's a lot of talk about testing in schools these days.

       Should we test students?  Is there too much testing?  What should be on the tests?  Are the tests too easy?  Are the tests too hard?  Do tests measure student ability?  Are high-stakes tests fair?  Standardized tests, the new SAT tests, college-readiness tests, ...and so on and so on.

     On a purely surface level, some students (and parents) do not like the big, end-of-course tests or the big standardized tests because they don't score well on these tests.  And that bad score leads to other negative and uncomfortable issues:
students feel badstudents feel not smartcourse grade is negatively affectedlooks bad on high school transcriptsnegative affect on grade point average (G.P.A.)negative affect on class rank This opposition to this sort of testing has nothing to do with learning or the student's (or the parent's) feeling toward the test representing the quality of learning that took place during…