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Posts tagged ‘grades’

Single-point rubrics and Checkmark make your life easier & your kids smarter

We’ve all been there. You just finished putting together a great instructional lesson or unit. Kids are gonna love it. They’re working together. Doing research. Creating stuff, not just consuming it. The historical thinking will be off the charts.

Then you realize . . . you haven’t created the rubric yet.

You know that clear expectations and feedback are critically important to the learning process. You know that rubrics can help you in assessing what students know and are able to do. So you sit back down and eventually decide to use four scoring columns instead of five. Six rows of criteria instead of three. Clear descriptors. Nine point font all crammed into your matrix so that it fits on one page. Definitely tons of feedback gonna happen from this beauty.

But it’s worth it, right?

Mmm . . . using a great rubric can speed up the grading and assessment process but they can also create other issues besides the amount of time it takes to create them. A student shows creativity way beyond what the rubric asks for in a way that you hadn’t anticipated and your columns and rows aren’t able to reward that. Or a kid spells everything correctly but the grammar and punctuation is terrible. Maybe she nails the document analysis but fails to use evidence in her claims and your rubric has those two things together.

And is there any way – other than individual conferences – to really know whether students actually go deeper into your scored rubric than to look at the final grade circled in the bottom left hand corner?

Yes, analytic rubrics are useful. I’m not saying rubrics shouldn’t be part of your assessment toolkit. They can help you develop and create assignments that are aligned to your end in mind. They can provide clear expectations for students and a way to share feedback. But they can also be difficult to design correctly and may seem so overwhelming to students that the expected feedback we want never really sinks in.

And, sure, holistic versions are much quicker to create and use. So that’s nice. But they fail to provide specific and targeted feedback. You get a kid who wants to know why they got a two instead of a three or worse, he won’t ask at all. Missing the whole point of providing feedback in the first place.

So . . . why not look at a third way to the rubric game? And use some tech to make it even better?

This third way, called Read more

No grades = an A plus

There’s a ton of stuff messing with my head today and I’m not quite sure how it’s all going to come together yet. So bear with me.

I just got through reading Daniel Pink’s latest called Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us and am working my way through the Dan and Chip Heath book titled Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard.

I ran across an article several weeks ago about a Duke University professor who stopped grading student work. Instead she let students grade themselves using a system based on contracts and “crowdsourcing.”

I’ve had two conversations since yesterday with principals and curriculum directors about helping to create quality assessment tools in their buildings. And reading Steve Wyckoff’s thoughts on grades and assessments reminded me of Alfie Kohn’s work on grades and assessments in education.

So . . . all of this stuff, together with over-the-counter cold medication I’m taking, is making my head a little fuzzy. My goal was some sort of unified theory of grading, some nugget of wisdom. But this is all I’ve come up with so far.

The current grading system stinks. And it needs to change if we want true learning to happen.

It seems to me that most research is telling us that the stick and carrot methods that we’re using in schools to drive learning don’t work.

Kohn describes the problem with the current system:

The research suggests three consistent effects of giving students grades – or leading them to focus on what grade they’ll get. First, their interest in the learning itself is diminished. Second, they come to prefer easier tasks – not because they’re lazy, but because they’re rational. After all, if the point is to get an A, your odds are better if you avoid taking intellectual risks. Third, students tend to think in a more superficial fashion – and to forget what they learned more quickly – when grades are involved.

Pink has similar thoughts based on his research:

The secret to high performance and satisfaction—at work, at school, and at home—is the deeply human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world.

The carrot and stick approach can actually significantly reduce the ability of workers to produce creative solutions to problems.

Kohn suggests that:

. . . the only real solution is to eliminate grades altogether, or to come as close to that as is practical in a given school. Of course, this presumes that our goal is for students to become more enthusiastic and proficient learners. If our goal instead was to sort kids (deciding who’s beating whom), or to induce them to do things they have no interest in doing by bribing or threatening them into compliance, then we might be more reluctant to question the use of grades.

Cathy Davidson, the Duke University professor in the USA Today article, noticed a big difference between earlier “teacher-graded” classes and students in the student-assessed class:

I think students were going out on a limb more and being creative and not just thinking about ‘What does the teacher want?’

I’m not sure what the best solution is but I like the idea that Davidson built into her class – collaborative student assessment and detailed feedback rather than just letter or number grades. Kohn agrees that when teachers modify their grading systems to include student feedback and an emphasis on specific feedback rather than letter grades, true learning increases.

Perhaps that’s part of the answer.

  • Focus on ways to minimize grades until the end of the grading period by providing narrative feedback only to specific assignments.
  • Provide ways for kids to assess their own learning.
  • Use rubrics more often, created with student input.
  • Like Davidson, design ways for students to collaborate on feedback.

But I think the most important thing we can do is to be more aware of what the research tells us about how grades and assessment have both positive and negative impact.

The next rant? Homework.

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Bribes for learning

I admit it.

I bribed my kid.

When nothing else seemed to work, we used a variety of stickers (mostly Thomas the Tank Engine) to encourage our two year old during potty training. And while we didn’t do a lot of scientifically-based research, it seemed to have a positive effect.

Giving kids stuff to modify their behavior is a time-honored parenting tool that’s been around forever. Schools have used similar techniques in the past but as the educational stakes have gotten higher, the “stuff” used to modify behavior has changed to include actual cash. A recent Time magazine article documents the trend:

In recent years, hundreds of schools have made these transactions more businesslike, experimenting with paying kids with cold, hard cash for showing up or getting good grades or, in at least one case, going another day without getting pregnant.

The question is does it really work? And, more specifically, can similar strategies be used to encourage long-term learning?

The Time article highlights the work of Harvard economist Roland Fryer Jr. who distributed 6.3 million dollars of private funds to thousands of students in Washington, D.C., Dallas, New York and Chicago.

The results?

Like any large educational research project, the results are mixed. You can read for yourself but in one city,

the experiment had no effect at all — “as zero as zero gets.”

In another,

something remarkable happened . . . Statistically speaking, it was as if those kids had spent three extra months in school, compared with their peers who did not get paid.

Robert Marzano’s research on what works in schools discusses the concept of rewards.  At Building Better Instruction:

It is equally important to reward students for achieving specific goals. Though there are many ways to tell a student he or she has done well, recognition is most effective when it is abstract (e.g., praise) or symbolic (e.g., tokens such as coupons or stickers) and contingent on students’ attaining specific performance goals. (see Classroom Instruction That Works, pp. 73−74, for a list). 

So we have some newer Fryer research partly supporting older Marzano research. The problem some are having is that cash is not “abstract” or “symbolic.” Larry Ferlazzo of Websites for the Day is concerned about using cash rewards for certain types of learning:

As Daniel Pink and others have described and demonstrated much more ably than I can do here (see A Few Reflections On Daniel Pink’s New Book, “Drive”; On Rewards & Classroom Management; and New Study Shows That Paying Students For Higher Test Scores Doesn’t Work) extrinsic rewards do work — for mechanical work that doesn’t require much higher-order thinking. But it doesn’t work for anything that requires higher-order thinking skills and creativity. And, in fact, these incentives reduce intrinsic motivation over the long-term.

Claus von Zastrow who writes for Public School Insights agrees, remarked that Fryer’s team noted that students getting cash for scores naturally grasped at test-taking strategies rather than, say, better study skills or deeper engagement in class materials:

Students [who were asked what they could do to earn more money on the next test] started thinking about test-taking strategies rather than salient inputs into the education production function or improving their general understanding of a subject area…. Not a single student mentioned reading the textbook, studying harder, completing their homework, or asking teachers or other adults about confusing topics.

For me, it comes down to this. When all we worry about is test scores, about the short term, about meeting AYP, about meeting NVLB reqs, it seems as if paying kids for performance might be part of the answer. And I know that every school and situation is different and short term solutions may be what’s needed in some areas.

But if we want to kids to think critically, to apply content in creative ways and to be true 21st century learners, I’m still not convinced.

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