I prefer to think of myself as their coach. “I coach kids to learn algebra” says that I am dedicated to my kids. “I teach 8th grade algebra” indicates that my dedication may be to the content. Being their coach does not make me less of an evaluator. Their athletic coaches evaluate them all the time. The coach decides which kids make the team and which kids are cut. The coach decides who starts and who rides the bench. The coach decides how much playing time, if any, each player has.
There are some things I just have to do as their teacher. Yes, I mean grading. (Remember, our grade books are sparse; we have very few grades. We assess quite often; we grade little.) We’ve just finished our semester exams. My team grades together in the same room using the same scoring guide. Prior to our exam day, we agreed on the questions as well as the solutions, predicted student errors, and completed the exercise of negotiating partial credit. Some say that is good enough; there is no reason to grade in the same room when everyone understands the scoring guide. Really? Would we say that there is no reason to play on the same court or field since everyone knows and agrees upon the plays? Don’t we expect the other team to have a plan of their own?
Are our learners the opponents in the exam process?
Are we trying to keep them from scoring?
Do they feel that we are?
Are we still considered their coach?
Are we trying to help them compete?
Do they feel that we are?
How are we thinking about scoring items on the summative assessment? Do our scoring guides assign points for good work or do they document how we will subtract points for errors? Are we grading in team? Do we take our issues to our teammates or our table-leader when we have a question about work that is out of the norm or unexpected? (Or, is the amount of partial credit awarded based on how nice, sweet, cooperative, participative -or not – a child is? YIKES!)
Could we alter everyone’s mindset about this stressful event by changing our approach and attitude about how we mark, score, and grade each item? What if we add points for what is done well instead of subtracting points when an error occurs? Could our scoring guides be more about assigning credit and less about docking points? What if we chose to add points for bright spots in the work instead of appearing to play “gotcha” by subtracting points? Would our grades be closer to representing a true score of what has been learned?
How would a learner respond if we handed them a paper that was filled with +4, +2, +3 and so on rather than -2, -4, -3?
Let’s try adding up the good things we find
rather than playing “gotcha”
by subtracting when an error is found.
Could the self-reflection prompts during the exam analysis process, similar to the post-game film analysis, ask the learner to identify why they earned the points that were scored? Could we get them to write about what they did well? Could they work in team to identify what others did well that they wish they had done too? Could they work in team to identify what others did that they find different or unusual and explain why it worked? Would this process motivate them to improve their understanding and help each other learn?
Would this help us all learn to blend the 4C’s (critical thinking and problem solving; communication, collaboration; and creativity and innovation) with the 3R’s?
Can we use this type of process to add to our learning? Could it be as simple as adding rather than subtracting? Are we willing to experiment?
So, there is one more thing to think about….Can we frame this in terms of teacher evaluation too?
Can we model a strength-based peer observation process? Let’s try adding up the good things we find. What if we chose to document bright spots in each other’s work? Could we write about what is done well? Could we work in team to identify what others do well that we wish we would do too?
If any of this is interesting to you, then I dare you to give it a try. Experiment. Learn by doing. Form a team of friends, critically important friends, to learn together. Let’s add to our toolkit by sharing our practices and asking each other questions.