Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Think Thank Thunk, Constructivist Education, and Standards Based Gradeing

I’ve always loved the use of a student-centered or constructivist based learning for classroom teaching. The knock has usually been that there isn’t enough practice. I’ve never felt that was a problem. Everyone else seems to comment on it so I’ll mention it.

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The knock I find is assessment. Yes, we can assess projects and read journals, and take tests, but for me that doesn’t satisfy (and for many it isn’t a multiple choice test so it isn’t valid). As a student I was always a master of learning a specific skill and remember it long enough to pass the test and then forget it (Please give me a multiple choice test, I can pass most of those without even knowing the material). Yeah, some of the stuff I stuck in short term memory is still there, but not all. Really, for me the stuff was there like the answers to Trivial Pursuit questions, but they had no real meaning. The problem for me is if it isn’t important enough to remember for long term then why bother testing for it?

So my conundrum is how to I get my students to remember stuff for the long term without actually forcing them to take cumulative tests all the time? Yes, I know the Constructivist Theory is to create a meaning for the information and the meaning becomes the hook. Sometimes the projects, or problems, or carefully crafted meaning just aren’t meaningful for all (or any) of my students.

The answer is of course to implement standardized grading. Students are expected to know standards of course, but in general we test for information that covers standards and then just assume if they know enough stuff in generally than they know the standard in general. Think about your usual unit test, it might contain three to five or more major standards for your grade level. Then each of those standards might contain one or more sub-standards (as I call them) or standards from earlier grades. (Well it works this way in math, sorta kinda. In reality it isn’t so pretty) if students get a problem wrong, what they are really saying is they have not mastered the standard or part of the standard covered in that question. Perhaps this is easier to think about for a math teacher because we are used to telling students to show their work so we can point out the specific part of the problem they made a mistake on.

The thought then leads us to the belief that if we grade each question as a standard that should be mastered then students will know exactly what skills they need help in and thus can concentrate on bringing that skill up to par. Kinda like a RTI for all our students all the time.

Students will then be expected to remember the standards through the year. If students have a low score on a standard they can make it up by doing a question on that standard. This way we are constantly revisiting the core of the curriculum and giving students the opportunity to lift their grade on a regular basis.

If you like to see standards based grading in action I suggest reading Mr. Cornally’s blog and watching it in action.

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