Another great topic last week at #sbgchat (9PM on Wednesday nights), where quality assignments were the theme. There are so many people providing excellent ideas and thoughts each week, the action fast and furious, I have now found myself “favoriting” many tweets, taking time on the weekend to read through the good suff, and reflecting upon what it all means to me as a math teacher. You can review last week’s action on Sortify, and thanks to Tom Murray for hosting the recap. Each week, there are a number of questions you can respond to, but I am going to focus on just one of them this week.
DESCRIBE THE IMPORTANCE AND ROLE OF QUALITY ASSIGNMENTS FOR STUDENT LEARNING.
Over my years of teaching, I have seen my approach to assignments change some. As a beginning teacher, I did what I suspect many math teachers do: find a “good” worksheet which has practice problems tied to the lesson, or give the odd problems in the textbook. In recent years, I added more reflective pieces to assignments, eventually using Google Forms to have students contribute ideas, in a move away from static assignments. And my philospohies towards grading assignments has also changed to the point where I rarely grade nightly asignmnents. Some of my favorite responses to this week’s #sbgchat question are helping to refine my attitudes further:
If you ask students and teachers separately what the goal of an assignment is, how would the answers from each group be different? Undoubetly, many teachers would point to the need for practice and their students to learn responsibility. But what would students say? Do students see the need to practice skills as a prmiary outcome of assignment completion? Are your students asked to reflect upon why an assignment is valuable? Have the learning goals been communicated and understood? And finally, how do the math assignments math teachers give today look and feel different from those given 25 years ago?
What I really apprecaite about #sbgchat is that I am challenged to think about my classroom practices. Sometimes, these are not comfortable reflections. Often, the hard work required to shift to effective pracices seems monumental, and I wonder who is up to the task – me, my colleagues, my students.
THINGS I NOW BELIEVE ABOUT ASSIGNMENTS
- Students should understand how assignment completion will help (or not help) them develop skills, and this should be the primary motivation for assignment completion.
- Students should have the opportunity to personalize assignments, selecting problems and/or experiences which move them towards their goals.
- Students should reflect upon their choices, and communicate how their choices helped them (or did not help them) reach their skill goals.
- Teachers have the responsibility to provide appropriate options for skill mastery, and discuss those options with students.
- Students should be allowed to mess up. It’s natural, and all young people will make a bad choice. Learning to move on and adjust from bad choices is a lesson unto itself.
In a post from a while back, I provided some ideas for differentiating assignments, and some of the ideas seemed to be quite popular. I would add now that perhaps students should also reflect upon their assignment choices and be asked to justify them. Are students choosing to path of least resistance? Or are they choosing assignments based on their perceived areas of need?
To incorporate many of these ideas will require a change in culture from both teachers and students. Why do we provide assignments? And why do students complete them?
ONE THING I KNOW ABOUT HOW WE HAVE TRAINED OUR STUDENTS
- We have trained our students to play the school game. Many assignments with point values cause students to play the point-gathering game, rather than reflecting upon their progress.
Hadley Ferguson, a teacher near Philadelphia, has summarized her experiences with a non-graded 7th-grade class. It’s inspirational reading. The dedication to reflective practice, and creating a culture of saefty and authentic learning, have clearly changed the 7th grade. It’s certainly not easy chaning a culture.
Here are more resources to help you assess and develop your own assignment philosophies:
Joe Bower – Real assessment for learning: Joe provides an outline of routines used in his classroom to provide feedback and information to students.
Creating Quality Classroom Assignments: Susan Brookhart provides a simple planning tool for evaluating classroom assignments.
Skills Mastery as the Beginning, Not the End: Justin Lanier provides his classroom experiences with a first attempt at standard-based assignments. A sample checklist is given, and ideas of how to manage the grading.
ThinkThankThunk: A wealth of resources and classroom experiences in SBG by Shawn Cornally. The link here is for math, with ideas for fracturing your gradebook, but click around to find more resources.