Tag Archives: reflection

The Problem With “Measure”

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One of the biggest blessings in my life is my marriage; I love my wife.

When I dislocated my knee (twice!) I experienced pain.

I can react with anger when personally confronted with injustice.

Joy warms my entire being when one of my daughters suddenly slips her hand into mine as we walk.

With some thought and effort I believe I could describe my love, pain, anger, and joy to you. Perhaps I could even express some degree of the intensity of those feelings, but I can’t measure them. My wife is pretty good at assessing my frustration, and my doctor does her best to assess my pain as she seeks to alleviate it and diagnose its cause, but neither of them are engaging in measurement.

Measurement requires a standard unit of measurement, a recognized standard that can be objectively applied in proper context. I can measure my bike ride to school in units of length (centimetres or kilometres). If I share that measurement with my colleague who also pedals to school, we can objectively compare that element of our commutes and determine who travels the greatest distance each day. What isn’t measurable or objectively comparable is the peace that the twenty minute ride brings to my day.

When it comes to measurement, learning fits into the same category as love, pain, anger, joy, and peace of mind. Learning can’t be objectively measured. There is no standard unit of measurement to apply to “Learning.” A skill can be demonstrated, progress can be noted, understanding can be communicated and shared, but technically this evidence of learning isn’t measurable.

As a teacher I have been moving away from traditional grading because I have recognized the limitations of grades in motivating, communicating, and promoting learning. Part of that journey has included using standards based learning and grading and prioritizing meaningful learning over the measurement of learning. However, I’ve been hanging out with the TG2 crew, and they have me reflecting on the power and importance of the language that we use in our conversations about education.

I wrote the post (linked above) about measurement and learning less than a year ago, but now I feel the word “measure” is fatally flawed when applied to learning. I moved to SBL/SBG to shift attention from grades to learning, and I think it is arguably an  improvement over traditional grades because it can help more clearly communicate learning. However, I hadn’t used SBG long before I realized words like “measure” and “accurate” were popping up in my conversations with colleagues and parents about standards-based learning. The problem with words like “measure” and “accurate” is that they aren’t about learning, they are about grades.

I am not working hard to reimagine my classroom and structures and practices to produce more accurate grades! I want to better nurture learning. The danger of using “measurement” language when we discuss learning is that we will mistakenly believe that we are talking about learning when we are actually perpetuating the very system we are seeking to reform. I have no desire to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic or improve the aesthetics of our scoreboards.

So, what language should we use instead? Any thoughts? For now I’m using “communication” language to help me share learning with students and parents. Also, and forgive the cheesiness, what might happen if we replaced the word “measure” in our conversation with “treasure?” Imagine a world where learning wasn’t measured, but rather, like love and joy and peace, treasured.

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Support and Control

Insert cliché opening about how-time-flies-and-I-should-blog-more here.

(CC BY-SA 2.0) by quinn.anya

(CC BY-SA 2.0) by quinn.anya

Thank you to mbedchatblog challenge 2014 for encouraging me to maintain a blogging pulse.

The last several years I’ve tinkered with creating a more student-centred classroom, and the last few semesters I’ve really gone all in. In various  high school humanities classes I’ve worked with passion projects, workshop models, and Genius Hour. I’ve done some team teaching, solicited student input on working with outcomes, and included self-evaluation as an important element of assessment. Certainly I have made messy, sometimes wonderful, often nerve-wracking mistakes, but I’ve learned from them and managed to increase student voice and choice in the process.

And then, last week, while a student was pushing and pitching alternatives to an assignment that already had many options, I caught myself thinking, “I’ve been working hard on this student-centred thing for a while now; I think I know what you need in order to learn.”

Whoa!

What did I just think?! I think I know what you need in order to learn. How did that get in there?

So, I did what many teachers before me have done–I stalled. I told the student that I’d think about it and get back to them.

Don’t get me wrong; I do believe teachers need to use their expertise in content and craft to maximize learning for everyone in class which requires planning, design, and execution, but if that planning, design, and execution does not embrace and encourage student voice and ownership, then it isn’t realizing its full potential. When I reflected on my hesitance to say, “Yes” to my student, Neil, it was clear that my reluctance was based less on his idea (it was rough, but feasible) and more on my desire for control, that sometimes monster/sometimes friend of teachers everywhere. For that moment I was more interested in a teacher-centred classroom than a student-centred one.

(CC BY 2.0) by .faramarz

(CC BY 2.0) by .faramarz

How can I be attentive to this kind of thinking and evaluate it with greater clarity? Here’s my plan:

  1. Think like a student
  2. Focus on outcomes
  3. Cut myself some slack

By “think like a student” I mean asking the question, “Why not?” If I’m to avoid inadvertently making decisions about student learning based on my own comfort or convenience, then I’m going to have to put the burden of proof on myself by asking, “Why not let, Neil do this?” If I can’t come up with a compelling, educational reason why Neil’s proposal for learning isn’t a good idea, then I should support it.

Outcomes should be the focus as students and teachers learn together. I know this is obvious, but it is so easy to shift focus to discussing an assignment or a mark instead of a demonstrable outcome. The more that student and teacher interactions involve curricular standards and outcomes, the better. Sharing that vocabulary and purpose allows for clearer communication, cooperation, and success. If Neil had made a case using course outcomes, or if outcomes had been more front and centre in my brain at the moment, my resistance to Neil’s proposal would have been easily brushed aside.

The last part of my plan, cutting myself some slack, is a dangerous one. Not enough slack and I’m on a stress leave with a seasonal affective disorder cherry on top by mid semester. Too much slack and I’m right back to where I started, obliviously making classroom decisions that over emphasize my  control rather than supporting student learning. The sweet spot between requires admitting that sometimes a bit of restriction or uniformity in class is okay. Sometimes students need to be challenged by teachers in ways they won’t challenge themselves. Sometimes I’ll have to admit to students that they have a good idea, but that I’m not sure I’m up to the challenge of managing or assessing it with the time and tools available. Perhaps revealing that reality and my humanity will inspire them to help find new tools and new assessments. At very least it will be part of honest relationship and community in the classroom.

That’s my plan, squeezed off from the hip at the end of February. I’m sure to be missing something, so I’d love to hear from other teachers about how they handle sharing the control and ownership of learning with students. Surely the collaboration and support of colleagues is part of the answer, but that’s a topic for another day. Stay warm.

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Breathe Deeply

This post is an expanded version of a comment I left on Jenni Scott-Marciski’s blog, Ed(ucation) Musings. She posted about participating in ETMOOC as an investment in herself.

 

On airline flights, the safety instructions alway remind you to secure your own oxygen mask first before attempting to help anyone else with their mask. The direction is there because the instinct of a friend or mother may likely be to help the friend or child first. A few moments of clear thinking reveal the logic–I’m not much help to my child if I’m unconscious–but a few moments of clear thinking can be hard to come by in an emergency.

For me, the same advice applies to parenting and teaching. We have to take care of ourselves in order to take care of the kids and students in our lives. If we don’t recharge, personally and professionally, we won’t have the energy, passion, and clarity to be of much help. However, during many days in a classroom, a few moments for clear thinking can be equally difficult to find. My personal and professional commitments stack-up, one after the next. Early morning grading, classes, email, hasty meals, coaching, evening meetings, and yawn-punctuated bedtime stories for the kids run together, and by mid-semester I’m wondering why the “stack” of essays in my iPad isn’t any smaller and how my teaching feels a bit robotic. What went wrong?

I know what went wrong; the same thing that always goes wrong: I stopped reflecting. Busyness crept in, and slowly I traded a little moment of clear thinking for a few extra minutes to empty my inbox. Next I swapped some self-assessment for an hour to respond to some student research proposals. Soon I didn’t even barter with myself, but plunged headlong into my to-do list without any nagging whispers about reflection. When will I learn?

Reflection is essential to learning. Mark Clements writes a good article about its importance at edunators.com. At a basic level I can’t learn anything without reflection. It needs to be as important as oxygen in my classroom. I must model its practice and importance for my students; significant time and space needs to be carved out of class time for it. ETMOOC is a tremendous opportunity, but it could simply become another obligation, another item on our long lists. In order to maximize our learning, let’s encourage each other to remember and engage in one of the most important educational apps of all–reflection.

 

 

 

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