Monday, September 30, 2013

Call it “Out of Home Work!” | September 27, 2013

Todd Conaway (@todd_conaway)

poster58A whole lotta “homework” should be the stuff that cannot be done inside the walls of a classroom. Like interviewing someone, or going to the park, or making projects at a friend’s house, or looking up at the stars at night, or baking bread, or cookies, or working on a poem with a parent, or working at a job, or shopping, or playing baseball, or relaxing. And I think it might help to change the language of “homework” to something like “stuff I need to do.” Like the current views of the word “politician,” it may well be too late to regain any kind of positive connotation to the word “homework.”
Now I do think that practice makes you better at doing stuff. But, practice when your heart is in it (you know, emotional) will help you learn it more deeply and in a way that will last longer and be more useful. And practicing the wrong thing is really not helpful and I am not sure all homework fits into the “useful” category.
I think that reading is good homework. Especially when it is, “Your homework for this evening is to read for a while.” No specific book, just to read. Or homework like, “Write a poem or a story or a letter.” Homework is great when it is a memorable experience. How can we make more of those? I realize that we can’t all do a semester-at-sea or hike the Grand Canyon, but we could get out of the classroom more often and ask students to get out of their homes more often. Ha! Maybe that is it. We need to call it “Out of Home Work!”
I am certain that kids should be allowed to be kids and play for way longer than we usually allow them. Out there in the “real world” is where the real life skills are developed anyway.
During play a kid may not discover how to fly to the moon, but they might discover the skills needed to create harmony within a group of fierce opposites. They may not find a cure for cancer during play, but they might discover how to live with challenges they face in a more positive way. During those after school hours they may find that relaxing with a book is more useful to them during their life than long division is. They may discover a friend who spends a lifetime with them rather than crouched over a desk doing worksheets. I think that in play we are more apt to find wisdom and that is something we really could use a bit more of these days. We have enough information. We need to use it with some wisdom.
So I think get what can or needs to be done in school. Do things that cannot be done in the walls of a classroom someplace else and call that whatever fits. But leave lots of time for playing in the grass.

The Wrong Homework Argument | September 27, 2013

Ben Rimes (@techsavvyed)


Our default “mode” for viewing the world comes from our own egocentric view of reality. It’s why we’re shocked when students we work with everyday still can’t grasp a difficult concept. It’s why our close friends and loved ones surprise us with radically different political viewpoints. It’s why we still struggle with judging “rightness” through the application of absolute principles rather than our own experiences and feelings. Our individual experiences shape who we are. If we can accept as a natural truth (or at least a strong assumption) that each of us is unique, we can shift the conversation about homework. We can talk about the value of homework not as a polarizing dichotomy, but as an encompassing plurality. 

homework coloring
My wife, the art teacher, agrees with this one.

Homework is Unnecessary

Josh Stumpenhorst, a former Illinois Teacher of the Year, insists that homework is really only stealing time away from students that they could be using to be kids. Josh considers that the differences in home life between his “have” and “have not” students means that most traditional homework would be unfair as some students would be met with too many obstacles (lack of safe environment, quiet space, computer access). In short, Josh doesn’t want his students to “burnout” on learning. Alfie Kohn would probably agree
Whose to say that something incredible won't happen through homework?
Who’s to say that something incredible won’t happen through homework?

Homework is Necessary

The research in support of homework is far less sexy  a tale as Josh’s stance against it. The supporting evidence focuses on the direct impact homework has on percentile scores, emphasizing the nature of short term gains many schools are under pressure to produce. Even Alfie Kohn acknowledges that despite overwhelming evidence against it (research evidence as early as 1897 suggests homework produces no discernible effect on learning), homework still exists as something that is just accepted as part of our culture in the United States. 

My Take

I’m not going to take sides on this one. Whether it’s from a stance of “repetition makes perfect” or “homework kills learning,” the redefinition of homework thanks to virtual schools, online classes, and the internet makes that choice moot. Almost all work completed in an online course could be considered “homework”. Students in more traditional learning environments that want to explore interests and curiosities from their daily lessons have access to many “homework like” activities online. MOOC participants will create homework for themselves on occasion. The question for me then isn’t one of assigning homework or not, but helping students determine how to make work and learning that happens outside of the classroom meaningful.
Give learners choice in what they want to complete, similar to the DS106 Assignment Bank. Give them theagency and flexibility to alter or remix classwork to better suit individual needs or curiosities. Brainstorm somecreative alternatives for those students who need a little more. If homework is a necessity, make sure you provide as much time in class to work, digest concepts, and produce new understandings as students are given at home. Because leaving students to fend for themselves can quite often produces less than desirable results:
  1. I liked homework better when it was called coloring -
  2. sagan quote -

Sayonara Homework! | September 27, 2013

Jessica Anderson

What do you believe should be the role of homework in learning?

Here's some data to help you truly understand why I presently feel the way I do about homework. Yesterday, I finalized grading five activities in level one of my class's earth science game. Out of the 285 total assignments turned in by my 9th graders there were only 4 assignments missing. Now if that's not tweet worthy then I don't know what is:

For years those holes in my gradebook have bugged me. Why won't they just turn in their assignments? The thing is those holes were always linked to missing homework.  Students don't like to do homework, I know, I have been a student for roughly 20+ years. Homework stinks!

Yes, some will claim practice from homework is good. Others will claim that it's good for building responsibility and that failure is a part of life. I can agree with all of those points. However, I can also show how I do every single one of those without my students doing a single hour of homework.

Let me illustrate it for you. Within the classroom "game," my students work through the material on their own, in groups, and 1:1 with me or another student. Within these learning groups, they determine what each assignment is asking them to do. Yes, they have to know how to read directions and read them carefully. They are responsible for determining how long the assignment is going to take, how they are going to complete it, and if they are going to work alone or with others. It's called planning and time management, both claims homework lovers will state. Once working on the activity, they often have questions. They will ask them, but only receive probing questions back from me. I don't give them answers, they have to figure it out on their own or with others. Yes, one of my goals as a science teacher is to model appropriate questioning and this is how I do it.  Do they get frustrated with my questioning madness. Absolutely. They want me to give them the answers, it's easier that way. But I believe in the power of failure and exploration.

My students fail. Using standards-based grading (0-5), many of them receive 1's, 2's, or 3's on assignments. However, in order to pass an objective students must receive a 4 or a 5 on the activity. If they don’t master the objective, they do it over.  They are responsible for getting the necessary help they need to pass the objective. They become responsible for their learning.  It also allows me to see who is struggling, needs further instruction, or needs a modified learning method.  Yes, the environment is chaotic (but controlled) and requires superb time management and organizational skills on my part. However, it is here where students practice and gain understanding.  

As I wander through my classroom and watch learning happen, I often wonder why I gave homework for so many years. Yes, part of it was due to the fact that all the teachers I had gave homework. I never questioned it.  However, as I learn more about learning and teaching I find myself questioning the norm and, in return, choosing a different path.

Homework isn’t necessary for my course, it’s not required for my students to become well-rounded scientists, and I don’t see the point in dying on this hill. 

Goodbye homework, Sayonara homework, 
you’re not welcome around here anymore!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

What If We Were All This Brave? | September 27, 2013

Jen Teal

It seems as though my students are finally finding their groove. They get what it means to be scored based on criteria; they realize that low scores now won't necessarily mean low scores later; and they are enjoying the fact that their homework is not graded.

And yet, I still hear...
"What if it sounds stupid?"
"What if I do it wrong?"
"What if I don't finish?"
"What if I get a bad grade?"

In my head, I passionately respond, "Who cares?" But I recognize that they might misconstrue those words. What I want to say is, "This is your learning. Don't let other people tell you whether your learning sounds smart, correct, finished, or up-to-par. This is your education. Claim it!"

But then I remember that they are 14, 15, 16, maybe 17 years old, and I am asking a lot. Was I brave enough, at 14, to turn in an assignment that was only half way done? Was I brave enough to show rough drafts of writing to my classmates? Was I brave enough to not let other people's judgments of my work affect my learning? Half the time I'm not brave enough now!

So instead of saying, "Who cares?" I found myself saying “Be brave” to one young lady on Monday. She sat for twenty minutes in front of her computer screen as three classmates (not friends) typed feverishly into a shared google doc about the distinctive characteristics of exceptional short stories. Every 5 minutes or so, I walked by and said, "Be brave." And when, finally, she started typing, she realized what she'd been missing.

Because it's scary to take risks in your learning when you think the answer might be wrong. It's terrifying to put your ideas out there when you think your writing doesn't sound as sophisticated as that of your peers. But it feels so good when you realize you're not alone. Empowered Learning forces students to take ownership of their learning but gives them the freedom to learn and grow from others. It's electric.

I'll end with a few thoughts from my students in response to a quick (anonymous) reflection about collaboration when the practice isn't graded:

I like this system a lot, because I don’t have to feel alone when I don’t know an answer or like I don’t have anyone who can help me. You can really talk and “bounce” ideas off each other. The answers in this system are supposed to be thoughtful, thorough and well written and your peers can really help with that. This way, I just have to try my best and then the outcome is me learning what I need to do better. I feel that I’m able to almost take more risks in class and experiment with different ideas and explanations that I would have never done if I knew that it may impact my grade in a negative way.

What if we were all this brave?

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Does Homework Always=Learning? | September 27, 2013

Janice Abud

This summer, I experienced first hand a small taste of what some of my students experience on a nightly basis from their classes. I took a graduate class from 8am-4pm for six days. Each night, after returning from the eight hour class, I had, on average, three hours of homework. The first night I returned home, I was exhausted. My brain was spent, but I had to push through the task...and it was one of my least favorite memories of the summer. Luckily for me, I only endured this for six nights. High school students experience this often and for their entire high school career.

The idea of homework is definitely controversial. Some teachers feel they must give it in order to have something to grade or feel that students need the practice outside of school. Some teachers only grade for completion, but don' t even check the homework. Parents become angry when their students are not bringing homework home, as they feel their student needs the homework. So where do we draw the line?

In my opinion, the amount and type of homework many students receive on a nightly basis is outrageous. We expect students to be in school for seven hours a day, and then head home to work on an additional two to three hours of homework a night. And for the struggling learner, that number can increase two fold. My biggest complain with homework comes from the excessive amount of "practice" of a particular skill and the type of material covered. When a student takes home homework, the material should be something they know how to do. Students should not be teaching themselves the material. At that point, the "practice" is simply "self-teaching" or lack thereof of the material.

For the student that struggles with the homework or is more advanced in the skill, homework many times=failure. For the struggling student, when they don't complete the homework, they earn a 0 for the assignment. And the determinant of zeros on a student's grade is so great. For the student who is more advanced, and does need this "practice, " they too are impacted grade wise like the struggling learner. Only they often have the stronger test taking ability, and can do well enough on tests to where they can still pass.

Homework does not always=learning. And in fact, the time during which students are in the classroom working with and learning from their teacher and class mates is much more a time of learning then doing homework to get the grade. When homework goes home, how are we sure the student is actually doing their own work? What if no one is home to assist with the homework or doesn't have the skill themselves to help the student? What if the student doesn't get the homework? How are we setting students up for success when they experience one or more of these situations?

As Allen Iverson said repeatedly at a press conference, "We are talking about practice?....we aren't talking about the game?" We need to be more focused on how students learn the material and can apply what they learn, and not be so hung up on the need for repetitive "practice" (homework.) Let's focus on the game for students, recognizing what they know and have learned and how they can apply this information.

Assessment's Value | September 20, 2013

Leif Segen

Assessment is a tool that aims to do an impossible task figure out where a student ison the path of learning.
  • NOT what direction the student is going,
  • NOT how fast s/he is moving towards the goal (or if s/he’s moving at all),
  • NOT how much momentum s/he has.
Does that mean there’s a Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle analog at work here? I’d say that’s a legitimate hypothesis, but without testing it that would be just be an unsubstantiated claim.
Stated differently: Sure, most of our assessments are ostensibly figuring out where our students are on the path of knowledge- and skill-development (or more frequently “what they ‘know’”). But is it possible to do more?

Assessment Impossible

I – a caucasian, American, middle-class male – cannot understanding the life of a female Chinese exchange student, or the unfathomable pain of a student whose skin color and gender combine to prompt so much of society to fear him and even loathe his progress. I’ve got privilege galore and don’t know what it’s like to not have it.
Similarly, we educators – who largely had it easy academically during our schooling – can never get in the head of our students, who have a vastly wide variety of thought patterns and experiences that influence their cognitive development. and know what they know or what they are thinking or where they are coming from. The best we can try is to (co-)create scenarios in which our observations suggest to us where they stand.
Assessment can be valuable when we understand its limitations. That way, a teacher’s efforts are focused on things that matter and not on what doesn’t help. What configurations do offer insights into understanding? While the specifics differ from content area to content area, here are front-runners I’ve found:
  • students write their thoughts
  • students represent their ideas with multiple representations
  • concept development is prioritized over fact-recollection
  • coherence of understanding is measured
I hear you. I’m surely not there yet, but please don’t forget what Dr. Viktor Frankl said about aiming [4 min video ]. [Hover cursor here for spoiler.] Assessment can offer insights into student thinking. When I design my assessments with that goal, I better at it each time.

Coherence within Learning Environment

Coherence is king.
If an assessment tool isn’t being used to orient students and me around our learning goals, why would we use it? (I’m writing about how I’m trying to get by within the severely limited context of teaching at a traditional public school. We all know learning happens outside formal school. You may also know that there are revolutions in how learning is configured that necessitate different ways of thinking about assessment.)
Assessment is valuable when the everything else we do in the classroom is influenced by the results of an assessment. (A doctor’s not going to continue with a treatment if any early test informs her that it’s killing her patient, is she?) Assessment becomes more valuable when it has a dynamic relationship among assessment, course goals, and what people are doing.

It's Still About a Duck | September 20, 2013

Andrew Taylor

A good assessment is a learning experience. Simply, there is seldom a time when all the teacher needs are answers, without pausing for student reflection or giving them a plan of action. Take this professor, for example. He's giving an assessment, but what learning is occurring?

Facilitate effective assessment and feedback with technology
On Mondays, my students of Advanced Placement European History have a quiz on their textbook reading. These assessments are each worth a meager 1% of their grade. While offering a token of "accountability," the real purpose is to provide students with immediate feedback about their understanding. Here are the steps:
  1. Students use their phone to login to a teacher-made quiz hosted on a free service like Socrative.
  2. They answer 15 multiple choice questions about the textbook reading.
  3. After each question, the student receives immediate feedback on their device about whether their answer is correct.
  4. The student immediately records in their notes which topics require further study. The feedback is individualized for the particular student. No longer does the teacher spend time "going over" questions that 90% of the students understand.
  5. The teacher sees both individual results from students and group understanding in real-time as the test is being delivered.
  6. After the assessment, the teacher can immediately address in direct instruction the specific concepts a large segment of the students need assistance with.
  7. Without even waiting a day to grade the quizzes, the teacher knows which individual students need remediation with precise content.
  8. The teacher can fortify the rest of the week's lessons in specific areas to help fill the gaps in student learning.
This strategy is just one tool in the teacher's kit dominated by written, oral, and project-oriented lessons. However, in a limited application, it is quite efficient and useful in providing information to both the student and teacher. Here are three companies who provide a free version of this service.
  • Socrative is a smart student response system that empowers teachers to engage their classrooms through a series of educational exercises and games via smartphones, laptops and tablets.

  • InfuseLearning provides a simple, powerful platform to streamline learning. Teachers can seamlessly engage every student on any device and make informed decisions at the point of instruction with real-time, student feedback.

  • GoSoapBox is a web-based clicker tool used by educators around the world to keep students engaged and gain real-time insight into student comprehension.

Of course, simple multiple-choice and short answer questions, even well-designed ones, have limited utility. A more powerful technique is Socratic questioning paired with a constructivist, experiential component. That's a post for another day. For now, take a look at the teacher below. He is novice at the approach, but at least he's trying new learning strategies.

Is Homework Dead? | September 27, 2013

Seth Furlow

"We need a whole Teacher Leadership Challenge on why homework should not be graded!"

First, let me sum up my basic philosophy on homework:

  1. It should ALWAYS be checked, it SHOULD NOT be graded, ever
  2. It has a role, especially with skill-based concepts like calculations
  3. It should include more thinking, and less doing

I am happy to see in my 11 years of teaching the shift has pretty dramatically shifted to the side of "homework shouldn't count". But should it exist at all? Yes. Students, learners, and people in general, need to practice. What that practice looks like will not be the same from class to class. We spend some time doing extra practice in my classes, but never without doing the same skill in class first. In my advanced class (AP and IB Biology) a lot of the "homework" is simply reading and or research. Look at the concepts, study them, then let's discuss them in class, where the real learning will occur. The real meat of a good learning experience, hearing others' opinions, justifying your own, breaking down preconceived notions, cannot happen in a vacuum. You need others to do this. This can't happen as homework.

One thing I have shifted to recently in my classroom is a focus on more reflective though in my classroom. This has taken the place of a lot of the homework we used to do. Let's do the work in class, discuss our struggles and realizations, then think about it home. Yes, just think. One way I have found I can encourage this is through reflective bogging. Thanks to Gary Abud and a workshop he facilitated on Modeling Instruction in Chemistry this past summer, I learned a great structure to implement this fully into my classroom. The results: impressive. After the first month of school my students have had maybe two assignments to take home and finish, but a weekly blog to write. The focus on what we did the previous week, how it ties to our learning goals, and what they personally felt/thought/saw during the activities we completed. Their writing has impressed me. Of course not every student has finished one every week, but only a few haven't followed through with the weekly task. The writing I have seen has been awesome. I believe it has forced my students to be more cognizant during class activities, and has really pushed them to think about what is the purpose of our day to day activities. I feel this has been extremely valuable.

I have a hard time believing the same level of engagement and thought is possible with doing the odd number problems on page 117 tonight. Keeping up with the skills necessary to be successful is clearly important in a classroom. I would argue that the skills are more effectively taught and practiced in the classroom. Thinking about the application of these skills and why they are needed have become my go to homework assignment. If you ask if these blog assignments are graded, we need to talk.

What is Important in Assessing Students | September 20, 2013

Seth Furlow

What are the features of assessment that make it a valuable practice?

I love data. I like numbers, relationships that emerge from them, predictive information, and whatever else comes from analyzing data. Assessments provide me with data. They can give at least a clue as to whether or not my students grasped some of the new concepts I taught. They easily identify which students need a lot of help, which students found the questions too easy, and sometimes assessments can highlight topics that students struggle with universally. There is one major disconnect that I have always struggled with when it comes to traditional assessments in my classroom: is the information gathered timely enough to do anything with it? Most often I would answer no.

I have started to shift my mindset when it comes to traditional end of the unit assessments or even final exams. The data gathered from these assessments isn't all that valuable because of the structure of our current curriculum framework. We move on to the next concepts, pounding away at new material as some of the old material is clearly visible in the rear view mirror still a little tattered. The most important data should be used to quickly modify instructional practices in the moment. How do we generate this kind of data? This is where the paradigm has really shifted for me. It is not the end of the unit that matters the most to me any more. At that point, I should feel I have done all I can do. But what about when I get done walking through an explanation and I see a room full of blank stares? Isn't that data more valuable than the fact that 74% of my students got question 6 correct on the unit 3 exam? With the push for high stakes testing ever so strong I think we have lost our focus on assessments for learning as being valuable, and I would argue, more valuable than any assessment of learning. Diane Ravitch argues, rather convincingly, that we do need more testing, but tests that teachers write, as they know what was happening within the four walls of that classroom more intimately than anyone else. I would not argue for the abolishment of all summative assessment, it does have a place, but it shouldn't be the end-all-be-all of what has happened in the classroom. Teachers should begin to rely more on what their students are saying and doing at the moment, not worry so much about the common timeline established by the department. Focus on helping students learn and master topics while at the same time helping them recognize their shortcomings and giving them the tools to overcome them.

Two years ago I attended a workshop that gave me a massive set large student whiteboards. They sat mostly untouched in my classroom last year, as I wasn't really sure how to incorporate them in a way that would become routine for my students. This past summer I attended another workshop which, in part, focused on HOW to use whiteboards. It was awesome. My students use them now almost daily. I see what they think almost at the moment they think it. It's been fantastic. I can address issues individually with a student or if I quickly see most of the class has a misconception I can speak with the whole class. This is not the kind of data that I was used to analyzing, but data can come in a lot of different forms, right?

What Would Make Me Feel "Highly Effective" | September 13, 2013

Seth Furlow

I would feel most accomplished as an educator if students could...

The last few years my district has been rolling out a new evaluation system like most other districts in Michigan.  I find little value in this system.  Honestly, it's a series of hoops to jump through, boxes to check off, and if all done appropriately I will be deemed "highly effective", or "effective" and hopefully not "minimally effective" or "ineffective".  It's a scam.  For whatever reason our state officials feel as this is the best way to reform our allegedly failing public schools (a myth by the way, which you can read here.) I really don't know if our administrators truly believe this is an effective system or if they are just following the rules too, but there has been nothing about these evaluations that has allowed me to become a better teacher, not one thing.  I'm not saying this out of spite or bitterness because I have been rated lower than I would have liked, because I haven't.  My ratings have been very good, but does it matter?  What would make me feel most accomplished as an educator?  It's not an evaluation, that's for sure.

The first day of my chemistry classes each year I usually share with my students that I won't be offended if they come back a year from that day and cannot recite some specific, arbitrary fact about chemistry that they got correct on a test at one point in time.  The content to me, is not important at this level.  We spend a lot of time talking about how to learn, what makes a good learner, and how that will carry into their daily lives;  these are things I feel will benefit them much more in the future, moreso than knowing that the fluoride 1- ion has 9 protons and 10 electrons (an actual content expectation in Michigan for chemistry)!  When I think back to the teachers and coaches I remember the most, there is not one piece of content that sticks out to me to explain why I feel they had an impact on my life.  It was the questions they had for me about my soccer game the night before, the concern they had when they heard I had gotten into a bit of a scuffle with a fellow classmate, the personal stories they shared about growing up themselves and lessons they had learned along the way.  In short, it was the relationships that mattered to me.

Content is in some ways obviously important.  There are certain things a well-educated productive citizen should be exposed to.  Assessing students on these items has its place too.  Can you learn difficult concepts?  Can you articulate this knowledge in writing or other effective forms of communication?  The value of the assessment though does not equal the value of the education.  What values and interests students take with them into their own adult lives is what matters most.  Any chance a new teacher evaluation system will reflect that?  Yeah, I didn't think so.

Teacher Leadership Challenge | September 27, 2013

Screen Shot 2013-08-31 at 5.01.03 PMThis is a multipart series of posts intended to help teachers grow their leadership practice and ignite conversations about education online and in person. The goal of a teacher leader is to improve the learning of all students through their efforts, collaboration, and influence. The 2014 Teacher Leadership Challenge is a weekly installment activity that poses a prompt on an educational topic or issue. Your challenge is to respond within one week to the prompt via a post you publish to your blog. Responses to the prompt that you publish to your own blog should be no more than 500 words. The aim is to get more teachers thinking globally about their classroom practice and their own connection to the wider education community. You can subscribe to this blog to get the weekly challenge sent to you automatically by email.
You can share your post to Twitter using #TLC2014 and spark conversation with educators. In addition to posting on your own blog, you can elect to include your post in the weekly collection showcase blog. To do this, simply email your completed response post to the showcase, at Make sure that you include the title of your post with the week of the prompt for proper tagging (e.g., "My Post Title | September 6, 2013") in the subject line (without "re:") of your email, and the full post laid out in paragraphs in the body of the email. Posts are automatically published from sending the email. You can embed images and URLs into the body of your email, and the post will publish while maintaining your formatting and layout. Check out others' responses in the response collection or on Google+ each week, leave them your comments, and get the conversation rolling ahead for teacher leadership.

This Week's Challenge:

What do you believe should be the role of homework in learning?

have_you_done_your_homework_yet__by_gwyn_wallow-d4swv66"Have you done your homework yet?" Many parents ask this question daily to their children; meanwhile, many educators have a daily routine that includes checking in students' homework. Yet the students often wonder why they must do homework in the first place. They frequently do not see the purpose of homework in the progression of learning. Is this something that can be communicated? Does meaningful homework exist? And, if it does, what does it look like and what does it accomplish?
Our culture in the U.S., and more widely the culture across the world, has come to regard homework as a given in education. It is rarely questioned by anyone other than the students themselves; however, a clear role for homework or its explicit connection to learning is not part of the collective common body of knowledge. Common misconceptions have arisen when comparing American students to students in other countries that are "now out performing" the U.S. on international assessments. We often hear archetypal statements about study habits, discipline, and work ethic towards homework that are behind students' success in learning, but is it necessarily true?
Some might say that homework is merely practice, but others say that practice makes perfect.
So, what is it about homework that makes it worth doing? Worth checking? Worth grading? What function does homework accomplish in class, out of class, or for learning? Has the role of homework changed over time? Should all classes have homework? How often should it occur, and for what reason?  Can learning occur without homework?

To get you thinking, here is a little inspiration from Allen Iverson...

Friday, September 27, 2013

Measuring Success: Potential For Production v. Quality of Work | September 20, 2013

Chris Profeta

In past entries on this blog, I have explained the $2 billion a year testing industry and how it hurts our students.   And while there is no consistent research to suggest that high stakes testing increases student learning, there is plenty showing that the pressures of high stakes testing have little to no impact on student learning.  A study by Arizona State University in 2012 shows that “a pattern seems to have emerged that suggests that high stakes testing has little or no relationship to reading achievement, and a weak to moderate relationship to math” success.
UK testingThe biggest problem I see in high-stakes testing from my perspective as a college educator is that students fresh out of the modern K-12 system tend to lack the critical problem solving skills fundamental for success outside of the classroom.  In my freshman writing class, I spend a decent amount of time trying to convince students that essays can be longer than five paragraphs.
Recently, at a faculty meeting, one of my colleagues suggested that social media like Twitter, with it’s restrictions on length of content, are damaging young people’s ability to analyze complex ideas.  I suggested that technology has actually allowed today’s college students the ability to express themselves on topics they may never have been interested in before, and that the bigger threat to critical thinking is testing.
Students are always shocked when they look at my syllabus and see that there are no tests in my class, that they are assessed not on the amount of information they know, but on the quality of work they produce.  This is the way it is in the typical business world.  Success is measured by what you do, not by your potential.  And that is really all that high stakes tests measure, a student’s potential for production.Seminar
I’m not suggesting that productive citizens don’t need to know information; they do.  And traditional “fill in the bubble” style tests do measure that.  But they are not a measure of a student’s ability to use that information for a specific purpose.  They don’t tell an employer, “here is what this person can do for you.”  This is the reason why you probably can’t remember the last time you listed your MME or ACT scores on your resume.
Here in Grosse Pointe, there is a segment of the population that looks negatively at Grosse Pointe North High School because, among other reasons, they have been told that that school’s test scores are too low.  Grosse Pointe North’s student newspaper, North Pointe, however, was recently named as a finalist for the Pacemaker award by the National Scholastic Press Association.  If I’m a parent of a student with a passion for writing or an interest in media of any kind, that actual accomplishment is going to mean much more to me than a test score.
In short, we as educators do need to have a measure of the information our students have, but if we stop there, we are in danger of tricking ourselves into thinking that our students are achieving something meaningful.  We need to push them the next step so that they can become productive, independent thinking citizens.

Assessing the Whole Child | September 20, 2013

Chris J. Profeta

Question: What are the features of assessment that make it a valuable practice? 

Assessment provides insight into the prior knowledge of a student and collectively can provide a baseline and a starting place for class instruction. How an educator utilizes this information is paramount to its value.

Politically, assessment provides the information for financial support to school districts. Schools must show Adequate Yearly Progress and exemplary MEAP, ACT, and other mass produced standardized test scores. Standardized tests illustrate how effectively a student’s ability is to navigate questions designed to test one learning style. Further, standardized test scores lure parents to charter schools, on line schools, and all other alternatives to public education.

A baseline, both individually and collectively, is essential for all students and classrooms. How else can an educator plan a strategy for classroom instruction and further to assist a student’s individual needs? As a former classroom teacher I am painfully aware that time and curriculum demands may not allow all needed individualization. However, the standardized assessment does provide information that will allow an educator to target problem areas.

What makes assessment a valuable practice? In my opinion the answer is, how is the assessment utilized? I understand why a university views the SAT and ACT as a portion of requirement for admittance. Is it possible that a student with a 4.0 grade point average and a low test score would not be admitted to a university? I recall meeting with my son and Michigan State University and the question was asked, how does the MEAP test affect my admittance? The answer was, not at all. All the MEAP hype and it does not even matter to MSU.

As a parent I clearly wanted to know in what areas my children needed assistance. I clearly did not want to know he was a 2 or that he may never catch up. I applaud the teachers in the Grosse Pointe Public Schools who focus on the whole child. My two sons, and now my grandchildren have the advantage of educators who focus on the whole child and not the test score.

As a private tutor I work with parents and students who need to realize just that. A number does not predict a person’s success.

I have the utmost sympathy for current teachers who must work within the confines of a kindergarten curriculum that mirrors my first grade, school funding based upon standardized test scores, and so many stresses coming down from Lansing. Educators have the insurmountable task of encouraging, motivating, and having a personal connection with students while making assessment a valuable practice.