“Deadlines in schools are for adults. We adults have so many things to do by a certain time that we need deadlines. The fact is, there are very few drop-dead deadlines in life, and most things in life can be handed in late. May there be a monetary penalty? Yes, and that is the lame rationale for paying students with lower grades for late work, because again, grades are currency, not feedback.”
Professor Jennifer Hurley writes about her struggles with rubrics, and why she's ditched them (emphasis mine):
The real reason I think we’re attracted to rubrics is because we like the simplicity and efficiency of them. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could make giving feedback into a scientific process? That would be so efficient and so less fraught with uncertainty! But why are we so afraid to admit that the evaluation of writing is subjective and depends much upon the individual reader? I think it comes back to grades. We’re frightened that if we admit that good writing is sometimes a matter of opinion, then we are no longer the authority, and we no longer can defend our grades.
I've struggled with rubrics myself, for exactly this reason–good work, especially complex work like writing or a presentation, is impossible to quantify into any manageable number of categories. Too often, I think in my head, "This is a B+ paper," and then I look to reconcile the rubric with that grade. Yes, the rubric does sometimes keep me on track while grading, making sure I look at each different area and don't forget to give credit where it's due. When the rubric isn't tied directly to the grade, it's slightly more useful, but only slightly.
Yet another good post about the impact of grading, this time from the always thoughtful KQED MindShift blog. (As always, emphasis mine.)
The trouble with these extreme emotional reactions to grades is that students’ knowledge of a subject is tied to their experience of the grade, says Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, associate professor of education, psychology and neuroscience at the University of Southern California. Powerful emotions attached to grades drown children’s inherent interest in any given subject.
“Whether the grade is good or bad, you’re taking the student away from focusing on intrinsic interest and tying their experience to grades,” Immordino-Yang explained. Under such circumstances, genuine interest in learning for its own sake wilts. “Grades can be an impetus to work, and can be really satisfying,” she said. “But when emotions about the grade swamp students’ emotions about a subject, that’s a problem.”
I've certainly seen this in my own classroom. Now matter how much I try to preface an assignment with comments like, "Don't worry about the grade," their emotional reaction trumps everything else. I've tried to do small things in my classroom to reduce that focus on the grade, but so long as grades are the primary source of feedback in the school, there's not much I can do.
Attention-grabbing headline aside, there's some good insight in this piece from Roger Schank.
No learning takes place without conversation.
Every year I would ask my students on the first day of class at Yale and Northwestern if they could pass the tests they took last year, right now. No one ever thought they could. They studied. They listened. They memorized. And then they forgot. We don’t learn by reading nor do we learn by listening.
I long ago decided that penalizing late work was not helping the students achieve any of the learning goals for my course. I want them to learn how to read Latin or write a compelling essay. Generally speaking, if it takes a student an extra day or two to accomplish that, that's preferable to me giving them a zero and then them not doing it all.
Plenty of teachers do not see things the same way, and enforce strict penalties for assignments that are submitted even minutes late. Whenever I ask teachers about these policies, the response is usually some form of, "We need to teach them a lesson?"
At a teaching blog run by Instructure (full disclosure: my school uses the Canvas LMS owned by Instructure), Sean Morris asks many of the same questions that I do, and tries to follow them to their logical conclusion.
What is the classroom meant to be? Should it be a microcosm of an unforgiving world? Should it be a retreat from that world? Should it be some kind of safe synergy of novelty, rigor, and relevant experience? And if it is this last, what “rules” must we establish in the classroom to keep our pedagogy intact?
When I read psychologist Carol Dweck's now famous book Mindset, much of it rang true to me personally. I could certainly see myself in many of her examples of a fixed mindset, and I've written about that before. And teaching our students to be more receptive to challenges is, in my mind, a valid goal.
As Dweck's book has become more popular, so too have critiques against those with an overly-simplified takeaway for schools from her research, namely the idea that "grit" (hard work and perseverance) and a mindset that sees failures as positive are all students need to find success in school. I've been dismayed in my own position by teachers who use the phrase "growth mindset" as a cover for claiming that students simply need to work harder. There's a subtlety to Dweck's claims that seems to be getting lost.
I think "Disappointed Idealist" does a good job expressing some of my own concerns about those who are using the growth mindset in a way that harms students.
For all the reasons above, some children will be penguins in an education system which values flight as the ultimate goal. And when they flap their wings as hard as they can, repeatedly, and still fail to take off, they are then hit with a double whammy: firstly they’ve failed to fly, and secondly they’re being told that the only reason that they’ve failed is because they’re not trying hard enough.
In this classic, the late Grant Wiggins shares the experience of a teacher who shadowed two students for two days.
The whole thing is worth reading, but her three (related) takeaways:
Students sit all day, and sitting is exhausting.
High School students are sitting passively and listening during approximately 90% of their classes.
You feel a little bit like a nuisance all day long. I lost count of how many times we were told be quiet and pay attention. It’s normal to do so – teachers have a set amount of time and we need to use it wisely. But in shadowing, throughout the day, you start to feel sorry for the students who are told over and over again to pay attention because you understand part of what they are reacting to is sitting and listening all day.
Considering how much teachers complain when they spend a day sitting in professional development, it's unfortunate that we forget what our students endure all day every day.
We spend a lot of time in schools observing teachers, trying to quantify good teaching. But much could be learned by focusing on students and their experiences. I wonder what a student shadowing program would look like at my school, and what insights it might provide.
Teachers work hard, but I now think that conscientious students work harder. I worry about the messages we send them as they go to our classes and home to do our assigned work, and my hope is that more teachers who are able will try this shadowing and share their findings with each other and their administrations.
In this old TED talk, Sir Ken Robinson discusses the impact it has on children that schools still value very narrowly defined academic skills:
And the second is academic ability, which has really come to dominate our view of intelligence, because the universities designed the system in their image. If you think of it, the whole system of public education around the world is a protracted process of university entrance. And the consequence is that many highly-talented, brilliant, creative people think they're not, because the thing they were good at at school wasn't valued, or was actually stigmatized. And I think we can't afford to go on that way...
I believe our only hope for the future is to adopt a new conception of human ecology, one in which we start to reconstitute our conception of the richness of human capacity. Our education system has mined our minds in the way that we strip-mine the earth: for a particular commodity. And for the future, it won't serve us. We have to rethink the fundamental principles on which we're educating our children.
How can schools adjust to value all the skills our students possess, not just those that will get them into college?
Giving "pretests" has never been a big part of my teaching (and with Latin, there's really not much point when students are such novices). But there's research that suggests I may want to give it a try in my World History courses.
But the emerging study of pretesting flips that logic on its head. “Teaching to the test” becomes “learning to understand the pretest,” whichever one the teacher chooses to devise. The test, that is, becomes an introduction to what students should learn, rather than a final judgment on what they did not.
I like the late Grant Wiggin's attempt to write a genuine, outcomes-based job description for teachers:
An educator must arguably cause four things in learners:
greater interest in the subject and in learning than was there before, as determined by observations, surveys, and client feedback
successful learning related to key course goals, as reflected in mutually agreed-upon evidence
greater confidence and feelings of efficacy as revealed by student behavior and reports (and as eventually reflected in improved results)
a passion and intellectual direction in each learner
This is a great starting point, and one could add a few more points specific to teaching at a Jesuit school like mine. Importantly, Wiggins also makes clear what is not the job of the teacher.
With a genuine job description we can finally tackle a great problem in education, the common view that the job is to cover the content. No: marching page by page through a textbook (or the written curriculum) can never be your job as a teacher – ever. The textbook or curriculum is written completely independently of your goals and students; it is a generic resource that merely pulls together a comprehensive body of information and lessons in a package for use by thousands of people with varying needs all over the United States.