Monday, March 24, 2014

Grades Gotta Go! (Part 3-B: "Practice Makes Permanent")

The next issue with most grading systems occurs when teachers grade students' first efforts or grade practice.

In his work on faulty grading practices that inhibit learning, Ken O' Connor includes the practice of "grading first efforts." As he explains, "learning is not a 'one-shot' deal."

This bad practice ties directly to the notion that all students should learn all things at the same time, which I discussed in my previous post. Instead of rehashing that idea here, I want to move now to the specific, problematic grading practices that result from this faulty thinking, the greatest of which is giving summative scores to people while they are still in the learning process.

The sports world already well understands the learning-performance cycle. Practices are used as opportunities to learn and develop skills while coaches constantly, immediately, directly, and specifically provide feedback for athletes. With good coaches and teammates (peers), athletes are receiving information in an ongoing manner for the purpose of helping them improve.

Athletes work hard and learn from mistakes in practices despite the fact that none of their efforts or stats is counted toward a single game’s outcome! You never see a basketball scoreboard start out with one team having an advantage based on free throw percentages during practice the night before the game. You never see a football team having to start a game down a touchdown because a quarterback had too many incomplete passes in practice that week.

When you watch ESPN’s Sportscenter, you are going to see and hear reports of all kinds of statistics and highlights, but none that come from practices. Why? Because the reporters, broadcasters, coaches, and fans from everywhere all recognize that it is the game where players need to be held accountable for their achievement.

Classroom teachers would do well to take notes from this analogy and refuse to grade students’ practice, including homework. Notice that I am very intentional about distinguishing grading from giving feedback. Feedback that “feeds forward” is a critical part of the practice component of learning a new skill or concept! Formative assessment is ongoing and necessary. Grading should not be mistakenly equated to providing feedback. Indeed, grading often interferes with effectivefeedback and has no correlation to learning.

Practice should be an opportunity for a student to receive timely feedback from teachers, experience peer-assessment, and carry out self reflections. Ensuring that these aspects are key ingredients to the learning cycle will help prevent another poor practice all too often employed, the infamous completion grade.

Completion grading is what teachers use to entice students to do their homework while not destroying their hope with a string of low grades for poor performance. It is most likely done with good intentions. However, it can be quite a destructive practice when it comes to learning. 

What teachers do not often have the chance to do is take a big step back and look at the big picture of practices that they have been using for a long time. With time to do so, I believe many educators would see just how illogical it is to use completion grades to build knowledge or skills.

First, completion grades mis-communicate ability and progress to both students and parents. Many times, a student receives several consecutive 100's on homework assignments only to fail the assessment. This leaves everyone confused.

Second, completion grades discourage critical thinking because there is no need for a student to evaluate his or her work, analyze errors, attempt more challenging problems, etc.

Third, completion grades do not adequately prepare students for assessments. In fact, they can actually interfere with the learning process because of poor practice. Students can repeatedly be doing things incorrectly if they are only graded for completing the task. This is probably the most obvious and harmful negative effect of completion grades.

Imagine a coach telling a baseball player to practice batting for a "completion" grade. No coach would ever tell the player to just practice swinging a set number of times just for the sake of doing the activity, while neglecting to consider form, stance, follow-through, contact with the ball, etc., and expect that to prepare the player for game situations against pitchers.

The above example is only baseball. What if we were to apply the mentality behind completion grades to other serious endeavors, let's say preparing to do surgery or flying a plane or putting a roof on a house? Even the thought of such a thing is unacceptable.

Virtually any activity that requires a particular execution of a skill should never be rehearsed over and over without considering the quality of the action because brain research teaches us that practice makes permanent. Good practice leads to better performance. Poor practice, which can go unchecked with completion grading, can lead to poorer performance. Think about that! A student can actually be "taught" to be worse at something through this type of grading method.

So, what is the solution to the problem of completion grades?

The answer is to not grade practice at all. Only give feedback!

No comments:

Post a Comment