Friday, August 27, 2010

Six Keys to Being Excellent at Anything - Tony Schwartz - The Conversation - Harvard Business Review

Six Keys to Being Excellent at Anything - Tony Schwartz - The Conversation - Harvard Business Review

Here is an intriguing article that opens the premise that there is no ceiling to what a person can do. Genetics can play a role in inherent advantages such as growing over 6 foot to make dunking "easier." Yet there are those like Spud an NBA point guard who once WON the dunking contest.

The 6 keys seem interconnected. What stands out to me are how several of the pieces are recognized as part of effective teaching practice such as "Seek expert feedback" and "Pursue what you love" which I interpret in the classroom as making learning contextual to what students view as relevant.

This is a worthy read.

Assessment-Friendly Grading Categories

Open a gradebook. What do you see?

Typically there are columns for recorded scores from a variety of assignments. The left-most column lists the names of students. Row 1 is a header that labels the type of assignment, followed in the column with the scores that recorded the work by students.
It's difficult to know what such a table of numbers tells us about students' understanding of the coursework. All that can be said for certain from what is displayed is that Summer and Thor excel in taking quizzes--thus labeled--while no clue as to what the "quizzes" are about.

What if, instead, the gradebook looked more like this:

Labels are one key to unlock understanding of achievement data. In this second example, the data has significant meaning. Isn't more important to know what the assignment focused on, then the type of assigned work? There is more to the data in these examples, but to just look narrowly at the impact of substantive labels can raise our understanding of a student's progress.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Whose Performance Would You Stake Your Life On?

Consider this scenario: You’ve taken a skydiving class. At the end of the course, you are going to jump out of a plane with a parachute. [Note to Reality Police: Yes, beginning parachuters are typically tied to an instructor for their first jump. This is a Scenario. Work with me :) ]
There are 3 professionals who pack all parachutes for course participants. You get to choose which person will pack your chute. Who would you want packing your chute: Packer #1, Packer #2, or Packer #3?

Every time I conduct this scenario, no one wants Packer #1. Sure this person started out great. Initially, scores are consistently above the Competency/Mastery Line. But on Week 6 and onward, this packer is unable to pack a chute that is safe for your jump. Choosing this packer is asking for a Once in a lifetime experience.

Packer #2 gets several votes. I’m always intrigued about why this person is picked. Here is a packer who is consistently inconsistent. The exam results are as much below the Competency/Mastery line as above. The common response is that based on the last test in week 9, this person is due for some good packed chutes. Choosing Packer 2 is for those looking to literally gamble with their lives on whether their chute will be the one packed well.

Packer #3 is an interesting story. Looking at the exam results for the first 6+ weeks, and you wonder how did this person stay employed? There is no way I’d want this person in the same room as my chute. Yet something happened beginning in week 7. Not only is this individual packing good chutes, the quality level exceeds the other packers and continues to excel to higher standards. Most people choose Packer #3. There is much to gamble with one’s life when jumping out of a plane. Having a chute packed by this professional, ensures that the focus on risk and reward is based on what you learned by the end of the course.

Interestingly, if we look under the hood of the chart at the raw scores by the packers, a different story is revealed. Traditionally supported or directed by schools and districts, teachers use a 100 percent scoring system for grades. The scores are averaged to get the reported grade. 
[Note: One variation is to “weigh” categories of grades, such as 30% Tests, 20% Homework, etc. Within each category the scores are averaged. More on weighing grades in a later post.]

What if the Packing Chart reflected a school course? Plug-in the class you teach or are taking.
How do the results differ from a record of what students truly know and understand of the curriculum? 

Packer #3 who the vast majority of teachers surveyed would risk their life on her competency has a grade of “D”, while the others who you’d really need a psych test if you chose them to pack your parachute get a “B”.

Assessment and grading practices are complex, and should be treated as such in how academic learning is evaluated. Yet, one component, averages, is a primary tool used for its simplicity in making judgments. Averages might not need to be thrown out of the mix. What’s needed is to include other factors for analysis of student competency. Beginning with clean assessment data, add in a shift in thinking about assessment practices, and add in an educator’s professional experience about curriculum, learning, and the student, will improve students’ growth and academic achievement.

If the primary purpose of grading is to measure academic skillfulness of students, one potential long range outcome is developing and/or nurturing highly qualified future professionals. Our assessments should indicate or track progress of learners.

At the end of the day, if our approach to assessment is multi-faceted and continuously reviewed, there will be more future professionals like Packer #3, and we can help Packer #1 and #2 become more than a facade. 

How does solely using Averages a potential fog to accurate grade reporting?
What elements of good assessment practices do you find important?
How should an educator’s expertise factor in such decision-making?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Grading Practices Re-examined

With a new school year approaching, a month from now, there is so much to prepare for in schools and classrooms. With a refreshed, often times rejuvenated, focus on the "calling" recognized as student learning achievement, this seems the time to consider how best to serve students. Much of our decision making is based on student work and the assessment and grading practices used to get as accurate a picture for meeting learner's needs.

What will follow is a series of posts focusing on grading practices. While I have a bias, which will become obvious, my intent is to offer information and examples for people with experience about grading to consider and join me on a reflective journey to discover what practices are best suited to meeting learners' needs. Those "people" include anyone who has ever been (or currently is) a student, teacher, administrator, business, and/or a parent.

To begin, what's needed is a agreed upon description for the primary purpose of grading. Much is taught from academics to citizenship, to responsibility. Yet, promotion to the next grade and graduation at the HS, MS, and Elementary** level is determined based on academic progress. While "social promotion" happens it's never been the standard by which students are expected to move forward. Our first impression on looking at a report card is that the "Grades" are indicative of academic understanding and skills based on a standards or learning objective orientated curriculum. Tom passed Freshmen English, so he's ready for Sophomore English, Susan is starting the year as a 4th grader, so that means that she has sufficient understanding of 3rd grade curriculum.

**Universities share a similar focus, and are included in this exploration. Their culture has some different challenges, grading practices share some common problems to study.**

Consider this statement, and does it, in general terms, address a commonly accepted view, your view, for the purpose of a Report Card?
The primary purpose for a Report Card grades is to represent a student's level of academic proficiency.
  • Primary is underlined to recognize there may be other factors which schools wish to report and/or parents want to know about in the student's development.
  • Academic Proficiency is underlined to emphasize that instruction and student learning expectations are keyed to academic curriculum. Look at the Common Core movement, and the impact that NCLB (wiki) has had on states developing common learning standards as proof. (ex. Michigan standards: GLCE and HSCE).
  • Proficiency is used instead of Mastery because expectations are not always expecting mastery. Students do need a level of proficiency which could range from recognition to mastery.
The primary purpose for a Report Card grades is to represent a student's level of academic proficiency.
Does this statement reflect or come close to your understanding for the primary purpose of grades?