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Education Learning Politics Teaching

Learning versus Academic Success

In the post on standards-based grading, I asked a couple of questions at the end of the post.  Basically, I was asking about the difference between learning and academic success.

If you are new to education, you may have heard the term, “doing school” or “gaming the system.” If you are not new to education, I’m pretty sure you have heard the terms and are probably thinking, “Oh, no, not another post on this!”  It is an important topic, though, so I thought I would post something about it here.

One day I was a participant in a training session about managing transcripts.  Related to that is, of course, the dreaded GPA.  As I was listening (yes, I really was), I started thinking back to the late 80s, when I was in high school.  Then, I couldn’t have cared less about my GPA, but watched as many classmates bit their fingernails to the nub over it and their class rank.  Those who were most successful improving their GPA were those who learned how to “do school.”  After hearing my trainer’s story, I had to wonder: Do those who outperform everyone else actually learn more?

In my trainer’s story, class rank and GPA took priority over becoming a well-educated human being.  The Valedictorian in her graduating class loaded his schedule with as many study halls as he could take in his senior year so his GPA would stay very high and he would ‘earn’ that spot. Meanwhile, his main competition (my colleague) decided to take a music theory course that counted for the usual number of credits, and other courses in which she would actually learn something important to her. He did win the valedictory spot and she did end up as Salutatorian. If it had been a fair competition, she may have won. In fact, since I know her, I know she would have won!

Mr. Valedictorian learned how to “game the system.” Ms. Salutatorian learned something else, something she would remember throughout her career as a cellist.

What are we teaching our kids when we ask them to win, no matter how they win? We are teaching them that what they do in school does not really matter. We are saying to them, “Spending days in study hall to maintain that GPA is all right; after all, what you learn in high school is ‘bogus’ anyway.  It is what you’ll learn in college that is more important.”

For this reason, I am glad that my high school did not have study halls, electives that were basically study-hall in disguise, or any other such nonsense. Each one of us had to take courses that would prepare us for college. Each of us had to spend hours each night on homework. Many of us had a long commute to school because we wanted to attend that school and were willing to make the sacrifice. What we learned in those courses made (for me at least) college a breeze compared to high school. I still consider freshman year of high school to be the hardest year of school of my academic career. It was because of the program I struggled through that I can honestly say I believe I am a well-educated and independent learner. Teachers showed me how to use the tools, then told me to go out into the world and use them.

What are we telling kids like Mr. Valedictorian? That he can skirt by, do the bare minimum, and still be considered successful. Perhaps that is the real problem with school today. Perhaps what we are teaching kids is to aim for mediocrity. How does that translate to college and career readiness?

Related Article: http://shawncornally.com/wordpress/?p=3954

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Do the Traditional Grade Levels Still Work for Today’s Students?

In my last post, I asked a few questions related to standards-based and competency-based education. The second question was “Do the traditional grade levels still apply in our century?”

Rather than answer the question outright, I thought I would just pose some more questions.

  1. When we group children by age, are we doing a disservice to them by not exposing them to social groupings they would encounter in the real world, which are comprised of people of all ages?
  2. Does social promotion really help a child, or is it just a way to move a child through the system without regard for his or her academic progress and readiness to learn?
  3. If we did adopt a competency-based education framework for our school(s), would we have to leave behind the notion of grades, especially in the secondary schools? Would that work?
  4. Would it be better to offer classes based on competency, such as what they would offer in college, at the secondary level? In other words, rather than take “Ninth Grade English,” why not offer “Composition 101” to all students?
  5. [pullquote]If we changed to SBE or CBE, would our secondary education count for more than a stepping stone to college? Would those who do not have a college degree become more “employable,” and not need to go to college to get a good job?[/pullquote]Does it really matter if a child graduates high school at 17, 18, 19, or 20 as long as he or she graduates and can demonstrate mastery of the standards and competencies prescribed by that district? What does it tell us about the curriculum if it is rigorous enough that students are not graduating “on time”?
  6. If we changed to SBE or CBE, would our secondary education count for more than a stepping stone to college? Would those who do not have a college degree become more “employable,” and not need to go to college to get a good job?
  7. Would CBE allow teachers to really focus on a select set of competencies for each course instead of a wide array of standards?
  8. Would extending the school year make sense if we moved toward CBE?

Those are the questions I have come up with on this New Year’s morning. On that note, I want to wish everyone who reads this a very happy new year.

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Education Learning Teaching

Thoughts on Standards-Based Grading

In the interest of full disclosure, I work for a company that develops, markets, and sells software to K-12 institutions, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and the company is not responsible for them.

The software includes an SIS (Student Information System), a performance management system, a special education system, and finance software. In the SIS, we have a standards-based grade book. When our product manager presented it, and the educational theories behind its development, to us recently, my first reaction was that of a parent, rather that a teacher. I thought,

4426.cstarinterrobangYou mean to tell me that students will not be penalized for missed assignments or for incomplete assignments? What?! That’s insane. You’re just inviting students to decide that the assignments aren’t important, and they won’t do them.

The Universe is made of stories, not of atoms.

That was how a lot of parents, teachers, and administrators reacted, too, when they decided to move to standards-based grading in St. Louis. The point of SBG, however, is to get an accurate “picture” of a student’s progress that does not include, for example, points awarded for doing homework. Instead, the grade produced indicates mastery of a standard, minus all the “fluff” that inflates grades and does not demonstrate true learning.

In addition, under SBG, students are able to actually master a standard. That means that they will be able to try, fail, and try again.

Another variation of the SBG theme is competency-based education. In my company’s world, they are basically the same thing, which might be a problem in some educators’ eyes, but it really isn’t. Basically, the grade book looks at the standards loaded by the district first, allowing a teacher to load assignments and assessments into the grade book under each standard measured. It allows teachers to answer the question, “How will we assess that this student has reached proficiency on this standard?” A student has to master the concept, skill, and / or standard and demonstrate mastery in order to ‘pass.’ From my understanding, that is how CBE works – it’s based on students demonstrating proficiency in some manner of a concept, skill, or knowledge. It does allow for more individualization than SBG (read the article below for a great overview), but our grade book would accommodate that level of individualization, I believe.

The Universe is made of stories, not of atoms.

When I was in grad school, I learned about a Middle School that was trying a different method of educating that refused anyone to earn less than a B. If you did poorly on a test or a project, you did it again until you earned the grade they considered acceptable. That presumes you did some remedial work in the meantime as well. In theory, that’s awesome. We would have a lot of kids, then, who would not be well-rehearsed in the ways of “doing school.” It would be a boon for differentiated instruction and personalized learning, too. Kids would be able to go at their own pace and master a concept or skill in true fashion, rather than trying to keep up with the middle. Imagine this: Kids would be allowed to make mistakes! Those who are “quick learners” (I am not among them, by the way) would be able to move on to more challenging concepts and skills and master higher standards. From what I understand, a number of online schools use standards-based (or competency-based) methods with their students. I love that idea – in theory.

In practice, it’s probably a logistical nightmare, especially for the teachers who have to keep track of each student’s progress, which could be all over the grade book map. I’m not sure that means we should abandon the idea; in fact, I think it means we should reconsider the following.

  • Doesn’t the design of SBG and CBE actually mirror what happens in life?
  • Do the traditional grade levels still apply in our century?
  • What is more important – being on track with others, or truly learning something?
  • What are we telling our kids when we espouse the ideas behind traditional academic success?

For now, I want to address the first question. In the article I referenced above, one of those who are not keen on the concept indicated that what happens in SBE and CBE does not reflect the ways of the real world. I disagree.

“That’s not how the real world works.”

Interesting. The first thing you learn when you engage in any project is this: deadlines are soft. Miss a deadline and you’ll need to explain yourself, but it’s not like it’s unexpected. Additionally, “getting something right” is more important than a deadline, and often “getting something right” means going off the rails and trying something other than what management expected. Staff takes ownership of a part of a project, and almost everything at work today is part of a project. Today, managers expect staff to be independent, knowledgeable, and flexible. Staff does not just do what it is told. Staff members start out with the goals they are given, but those goals can often shift. So, yes, this type of education does reflect the real world.

More later… It’s time to open presents!

07.20

At least | that’s what | he said | later | on shore
While I | washed my | feet of | gritty | wet sand.
My thoughts | swimming | back to | moments | before
When I | panicked,| not see | ing him | from land.

Yes, that will do nicely!

10.30

I watched | a buo| y with | gray hair | floating
In the | ocean,| no wor|ry in | his mind.
To God,| he di|rected | his face | gloating,
“A more | perfect | life you’ll | struggle | to find.”

I like that rewrite!

At least | that’s what | he said | later | that day

While I | washed my | feet of | gritty | wet sand.

My…

08.38

First, I have to say that this is really hard.  🙂

In the ocean, on his back he floated,
No worry in his mind, nor in his heart.
To God, he lifted his face and gloated,
“My life is perfect. We’ll never part.”

I like the first quatrain. Well, I should say that I like it enough to not change it yet.

On the beach, his children played in sand,
Castles they made, and buried mother’s feet.
She let them, scrunched her toes, feeling safe on land,
Comfortable in her beach seat.

Oh, that’s terrible. I just really like the bit about burying mother’s toes.

Mother heard a frightened, “Where is he?”
Her eyes opened wide.  Was he lost?
Kids laughed as he came from the sea,

As I sit here, with my pen, I wonder
Will I write well?  Will these words drag me under?

08.00

In the ocean, on his back he floated,
No worry in his mind, nor in his heart.
To God, he lifted his face and gloated,
“My life is perfect. We’ll never part.”

On the beach, his family played with sand,
Castles they made, and buried mother’s feet
She laughed, wiggled her toes, …
 

Then she saw her husband had disappeared…

As I sit here, with my pen, I wonder
Will I write well?  Will these words drag me under?

16.16

Great Feedback
What a wonderful gift I received today when I checked in on my professional development courses.

03.21

More on Consideration Number One

I simply found it fascinating that an educator would say that SBG and CBE do not reflect the real world.  I understand why the person said it.  If you don’t meet the goals set in the workplace, there are consequences.  If you don’t do the work you’re supposed to do, there are consequences.  As I said above, however, adults set these deadlines while collaborating on a project or task, and the goals are continuously revisited for validity.  The manager does not set a goal in a grade book and give you a zero if you don’t meet the goal.  Yes, you have to explain yourself if you don’t meet the goal, but if you can explain yourself well, the penalties are often slight or not imposed at all.

Which brings me to my next point: Communication feeds the heart and soul of any human organization, project-based or not.  [pullquote]Communication feeds the heart and soul of any human organization, project-based or not.[/pullquote]In this reformed version of grading, students and teachers work on communication and collaboration skills, two very important skills to have as one enters the workforce.  If done right, I believe the students will learn to acknowledge that goals and deadlines are important, but more importantly, they will learn to communicate with their teacher when they are struggling to meet them or believe the assignments are not going to help them achieve their goals.  I think that educators are misunderstanding a fundamental part of this learning process when they allow students to miss deadlines or not complete assignments at all.  That’s a misconception about the process that absolutely must be addressed.  Students are missing vital learning opportunities when they do not attempt an assignment simply because they know they will not be penalized.  When students and educators agree that the assignments are learning opportunities and that they should communicate about its effectiveness and collaborate to make changes if necessary, that is when true learning takes place.  That reflects what happens in the real world. 

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03.21

More on Consideration Number One

I simply found it fascinating that an educator would say that SBG and CBE do not reflect the real world.  I understand why the person said it.  If you don’t meet the goals set in the workplace, there are consequences.  If you don’t do the work you’re supposed to do, there are consequences.  As I said above, however, adults set these deadlines while collaborating on a project or task, and the goals are continuously revisited for validity.  The manager does not set a goal in a grade book and give you a zero if you don’t meet the goal.  Yes, you have to explain yourself if you don’t meet the goal, but if you can explain yourself well, the penalties are often slight or not imposed at all.

Which brings me to my next point: Communication feeds the heart and soul of any human organization, project-based or not.  [pullquote]Communication feeds the heart and soul of any human organization, project-based or not.[/pullquote]In this reformed version of grading, students and teachers work on communication and collaboration skills, two very important skills to have as one enters the workforce.  If done right, I believe the students will learn to acknowledge that goals and deadlines are important, but more importantly, they will learn to communicate with their teacher when they are struggling to meet them or believe the assignments are not going to help them achieve their goals.  I think that educators are misunderstanding a fundamental part of this learning process when they allow students to miss deadlines or not complete assignments at all.  That’s a misconception about the process that absolutely must be addressed.  Students are missing vital learning opportunities when they do not attempt an assignment simply because they know they will not be penalized.  When students and educators agree that the assignments are learning opportunities and that they should communicate about its effectiveness and collaborate to make changes if necessary, that is when true learning takes place.  That reflects what happens in the real world. 

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The Universe is made of stories, not of atoms.
The Universe is made of stories, not of atoms.
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Two Inspiring Stories

Check out this playlist for two very inspiring stories.  One is about Ricochet, a dog who made the lives of those with special needs better in so many ways.  The second is about Owen, a young man with special needs who loves basketball, and his friends.

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Deconstructing the Myth of Learning Styles

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