Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Break a time for reflection

The break in school over the holidays has provided me with a time for reflection.  The school I teach in has block scheduling, and our 2nd quarter will finish up 2 weeks after we get back from vacation.  As the 3rd quarter begins, I will have all new students.  This provides a chance to change some practices and try new ideas on assessment and grading.  My brother, Matt Townsley, (@mctownsley on twitter) utilizes a form of standards based grading in his high school math classes.  It is my goal over the next couple of days to sit down with Matt and set up a plan for the implementation of a standards approach in my classroom.

My concern with this is I'd be starting something new in my school.  No other teachers will be utilizing a standards approach.  I also want to make it very clear to my students and their parents about the expectations and grading practices.  I hope to use this space (the blog) to share joys, frustrations, and gather feedback from you who might have ideas that will provide a better learning experience for my students.  My goal is to post once a week, but our second child is due anytime now, so I may be busy changing diapers instead of blogging.

Anyway, I'd love to hear your responses, insights, and ideas regarding standards based grading.  Please drop a comment or find me on twitter: @EricTownsley  I look forward to learning and sharing!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Why are slower learners punished?

I've been thinking a lot lately about how the current education system operates.   As I look further into standards based grading, utilize formative assessments, and evaluate my current classroom practices, I wonder why we do things the way we do.  Typically, the students that earn the best grades have one of two characteristics.

1. They are "smarter" than other students: these students learn more quickly, are highly motivated, and could probably learn on their own with just a book or other resource.

2. They work harder than other students: these students spend lots of time doing homework, come in before school or after school, and are rewarded by our current system because students who work hard should get a better grade than those who are "lazy".

Why is this the case.  Do these two characteristics make better employees?  Maybe, but as an educational system, I think we're missing the boat.  We're not living in an industrial age anymore.  We're living in a digital age.  We have to prepare our students for what they're going to see, but that's what's scary.  We don't know what we're going to see in the future.  We need to prepare students for learning.  I hear this question in my math classes often: "Why do we need to know this?"  I have two responses to this question.
1. I give them a real life job, or time they will use it in.
2. We're learners.  We want to learn and keep learning different ways to learn.

I then get the usual groan from my students.  They say, "Well, I'm not going to do that job"  I then say, "You never know.... what your future holds"

Well, I've digressed a bit here, so I'll return back.  Why are slower learners punished?  I don't have the answer.  What I do have is a solution...  Take away grades, focus on learning, collaboration, and learning! (Yes I did say learning twice, I know that and it's a point of emphasis :) ) This will take a total shift in our society.  People are going to have to let people in education be the experts and move forward.  Mistakes are going to be made by teachers, administrators, and schools, but that's how learning works isn't it?

A large factor in this shift, if we want to make it (I believe we have to, to afford our students a bright future) is for teachers and administrators be learners as well.  The system we operate in is outdated.  Period.  But, change can't come at once.  We have to move our system forward at a quicker pace than we have been.  This shift has to be made collaboratively.  Teachers and administrators have to work together.  As a good friend and coach says...  "How...... Together!"

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Small Victory


I have a small victory to share.  The next day after my frustration about not doing the assignment in class, we (the class and I) talked about the situation.  There response was, "Well, you told us if we understood that we didn't need to do the assignment".  I almost jumped up and down!  We then continued to talk about how we know that we understand it and  a different student said, "Why don't you give us one of those quiz thingies."  Meaning a formative assessment.  I was exploding inside.  They are figuring it out!!!  Now, we are taking the summative assessment tomorrow, we'll see how it goes.  If the indicators are right, we'll do well.