"Assessment is not a spreadsheet, it's a conversation." - Joe Bower
I was thankful that I had the opportunity to learn from Joe Bower a couple years ago during a YYCEdCamp event hosted at Robert Thirsk High School. Joe was a captivating presenter who brought everyone in the room into his talk, In this way he led by example. His passion was assessment, and he tackled a controversial topic head on. What is the purpose of a zero, an incomplete assignment, or a failed test?
Like many teachers in the audience, I had mixed feelings. Part of me believed in the premise of "you get what you get and you don't get upset" mindset. You may have come to know this from your parents too. It's the mindset that hard work and commitment trumps all. Simply put, if you didn't achieve your goals, you must not have put the effort in. Failed test? Study more. Missed assignment? Make better choices with your time. Some may have come to know this as Tough Love.
Another part of me was a bit more practical. After all, isn't being a teacher is about really trying to understand what a student knows, and finding the right ways to figure this out. This mindset is a little bit different. Failed test? Let's look at your responses and redo it. Missed assignment? How can I help you, and when can you get it in? Tough Love advocates may call this Coddling.
This topic brings out a LOT of passion in both teachers and parents and it's become a landmark discussion for the state of the world we're living in. Even in reading this, I am sure you've already drawn your line in the sand.
For me, after my time with Joe, I realized that having a student have a test re-do, or allowing a student to have an extension on an assignment wasn't "giving in" or coddling, it was good teaching in action. Here is what dealing with zero, or responsive assessment allows a teacher to do:
1) Connect - a failed test or missed assignment is a chance for the teacher to really get to know the student. It is the "conversation" that Joe refers to. As a teacher I could look into the results and identify the gaps in learning and, if required, re-teach them. In the case of a missed assignment, I could make the assessment as to whether that student didn't understand, have the time or materials, or just have too many other things on the go to complete it in a timely manner.
2) Reflect - I had to learn to see a failed test as an indicator to my teaching and not necessarily the student's learning. As I looked at things more and more through this lens I began to recognize patterns, and these patterns identified areas for improvement in my teaching.
3) Inspire - No one, especially students, respond well to failure. In my experience failure only leads to more failure through self-doubt, frustration, and ultimately a lack of desire to persevere. When a student knows that you care about them, and that you will provide them with the support they need, you can truly inspire them to achieve. You can avoid all the negativity and literally turn nothing into something.
My son recently received his driver's licence on his first try. In talking with many adults since this, everyone seems shocked that he got in on his first attempt. Story after story revealed how many times some of our family and friends needed to repeat their road test in order to pass. When you think about it, some professions, including law, medicine and engineering, allow multiple attempts to test for professional designation. Where does the Tough Love apply in these cases?
The truth is that we adults need the same second chances for our success that we seem to be willing to rip from our children/students. We can learn from our failed tests and missed assignments and go on to be successful. As teachers, we have to assess each situation one student, and one conversation at a time.
My short little blog post can not do this intense topic full justice. Joe Bower worked hard to spread the word to abolish grading. Much of his work is captured on his blog which is still active. Please visit his page, peruse the links, and share your thoughts. It remains a divisive topic in education: http://joe-bower.blogspot.ca/p/abolishing-grading.html
It is always great when you find a good crossover clip - one which allows both teacher and parent to understand a concept without too much eduspeak. I have loved watching these related videos posted by Rick Wormeli and hope you might as well.