Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Fine Line

Teaching is a series of balancing acts - a net of fine lines that you don't want to cross, like a Socratic Tholian web.

Here's one related to SBG:
  • What's the balance point between an ethos of "ongoing assessment," where students are psyched about having their "grade" increase as they attain more and more mastery of the material, and an environment where they feel like "every time I ask a question, my 'grade' goes down!"?
On the pro-assessment side, I want to have a record of growth in each standard over time.  Later applications will (hopefully) be more successful than later ones, and showing the growth in understanding (or lack thereof) is one of the important factors that make SBG so great.

I record scores each week (I track them on a sheet, enter the scores at the end of the week, and that goes into the graph - here's a post explaining the current system of SBG that I'm using, and here are some better examples of tracking sheets and some of the graphical summary sheets that the students get).  Unfortunately, here aren't that many weeks that I'll be guaranteed assessments on any given standard, so I do want a score on that first shaky-legged-foal week.  I'll probably only get three or four scores for lots of the standards (maybe fewer!), which isn't as many as I'd like, but it's a lot better than two or three.

I also like the idea that they need to always be "on": that really knowing something means that you know it.  You can bet that none of those fantasy football-playing guys and gals that I have would let someone talk about an awesome play on 5th down that they saw last night, but they often don't have the same awareness of physical concepts.  They should.  That's what knowing means, and it's what I want for them.

On the con side, I have actually heard the feared "Big Brother's watching" response from a few kids.  One of our first models was of the awesome WCYDWT: Tricycle Race video.  Students posed questions and dove in to start answering them.  Stuff was going swimmingly - maybe a week in, and they're already rocking independent exploration.   

Here's the rub: I'm taking some notes on their modeling skills, units, algebra, kinematic issues, etc.  It's pretty low-key, and most students ignore me (except when I'm asking them something or they're asking me something).  One young lady asks about something (I don't remember what), I answer with a question (probably, knowing me), and a few minutes of appropriate confusion ensues.  I'm nearby as they work it out and get back on track.  I make a note, and here comes the reaction:

"Wait, every time we ask you a question our grade goes down?"

 That's the sort of thing that garners attention, and it was one of those moments where kids' impressions of you, SBG, and physics are cemented (physics? that's silly!  Don't let my little puppet show represent Archimedes, Einstein, and everything in between!). 

My spin (and intent) was to communicate that they haven't quite caught on to how SBG works yet: sure, having a pretty large misconception about physics means that this standard score won't be as high as if you didn't have it, but it's a heckuva lot higher than if you didn't work out.  That, however, is a secondary issue about interpreting this bit of "grading." Here's the main event:

Nothing that you do today is set in stone.  As long as you understand more tomorrow than you understand today, you don't have anything to worry about as far as your grade goes. 

I tried to make it clear that I want their grades to represent what they know or can do right now - nothing more and nothing less.  What that means for "the grade," be that an upward trend or a downward one, well...  that's up to them.

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