October 6, 2011

Is what you are doing good for your students?

Each year my principal has requested the staff to use the data program provided by the school district in order to better understand our students' needs. On the surface this seems like a great idea - use the standardized testing in order to gauge their current knowledge level in order to better inform my teaching for the future.

However, there are a couple issues that I had completing the assignment:
  1. My students are not data - they are students and, more importantly, human beings. I cannot define them based on their performance on a test. They all have their strengths, their weaknesses, their interests, and things that they do not enjoy. One test cannot properly assess all of the possible variables that form these.
  2. Knowledge is great, but I want my students to gain wisdom. Wisdom, as far as I can tell, is the ability to take knowledge and turn it into something useful and meaningful. There is no wisdom in standardized testing. Knowledge, maybe, but wisdom is nowhere to be found.

Luckily for me, my principal appreciates my need for authentic reflection. Therefore, when I brought up my issues with her, she asked me for my authentic reflection. So, here's what I have learned so far:

• Students do not reflect on their work

In school, students will typically be given an assignment by their teacher. If they are "good students" then they will complete the assignment and turn it in for a grade. The teacher grades the assignment and returns it, hopefully with feedback and an opportunity for revision. But, revision is not necessarily reflection. If a teacher marks what needs to be corrected, a student merely changes those things marked, thinks nothing about why, probably does not re-read their work, and then turns it in again.

No reflection on the student's part will have taken place. Instead, they will be provided with reflection by their teacher - in the form of a grade. Ask a student how they are doing in their classes and they will tell you their current grades.

• Students need to participate in authentic assessments

The best way to find the level of a student's skills/knowledge/wisdom is to have them demonstrate those  in their work. If I want to see how well they write narratives, I will have them write narratives. Presenting them with a multiple choice question that requests that they find the proper place for a comma will not help them use commas correctly. The only way to do that is to give them feedback, allow them to reflect, and then correct their errors.

Failure is always an option - it is a fantastic way for students to learn - when they fail, they can then reflect, and then do better the next time.

• Students need to create their own goals

For too long students have been given goals and expectations by their teachers. Students need to love learning and they can only do that with self direction.

In reflecting on my own teaching I realized that designing and specifying the requirements of every assignment prevented my students from taking ownership of their learning and reflection.

If a student fails to meet their goals, then they reflect upon what prevented their success and they make overcoming those obstacles part of their new goal.


Classes are heavily focused on punitive grading. When you don't do what the teacher expects, you get a low grade - a punishment.

Instead - stop grading, give feedback, have students reflect and revise. Students do not need to be punished for failure - they need to be guided toward success.

There is a whole new world forming for teachers, but it is a grassroots movement. The solution to education reform is not a top down movement, it lives in the changes that teachers make to their individual classrooms - and by extension, their students. Be brave - be strong - do what you know is right for your students. So far, this feels right to me.

No comments: