Saturday, February 6, 2010

Education fu, episode 1

PROFE:  Let's go over this again.  The purpose of homework is to...

SEÑOR COSBY:  Allow students to practice skills they already know, Profe.

PROFE:  And the objective of this practice is...

COSBY:  To improve the speed and accuracy of the skill.

PROFE:  So far, so good.  Now: The purpose of assessment.

COSBY:  The purpose of assessment is to determine how well a student has learned the skills and knowledge taught.  This can be used as data-gathering for how well the teacher instructed the lesson.

PROFE:  Is it?  Is that the purpose?  [Waits expectantly.]

COSBY:  Oh!  That's summative assessment.

PROFE:  Okay, not so bad.  What's the other kind of assessment, and what's it for?

COSBY:  Formative assessment, used to inform instruction.

PROFE:  What does that mean, "inform instruction?"

COSBY:  It's like a stepping stone in a learner's learning.  It gives the instructor information about what he needs to do to maximize learning.

PROFE:  It gives the instructor information?

COSBY:  Well, I suppose it lets the learner know how she's doing, too.

PROFE:  You should do more than "suppose," Saltamontes.  It's a vital form of feedback to the student.  Working a system for students to keep track of their progress is a vital component of classroom management, motivation, and self-directed learning.

COSBY:  Yes, Profe.

PROFE:  Now, on to providing feedback.  Tell me your thoughts about it.

COSBY:  It needs to be immediate and contingent.

PROFE:  I think you're thinking of behavior correction.

COSBY:  Hmm.  Well, immediacy is important, I know. 

PROFE:   Yes.  What's immediacy mean?

COSBY:  It means you give feedback right away.  If you give an assignment, correct it and give it back.

PROFE:  Instead of doing what with them?

COSBY:  Letting them sit on your desk until they start to decompose, then throw them out at the end of the term, Profe.

PROFE:  And this is important because...?

COSBY:  If you're going to have a student do the work, you have to recognize the effort.


COSBY:  Uh...

PROFE:  Feedback has nothing to do with effort.  It has everything to do with learning.  The learner shows you what she knows.  You take that and tell the student how to take the next step.  In that way, feedback helps both student learning AND teacher's instructions.

COSBY:  Isn't that...formative assessment!

PROFE:  Good, Saltamontes.  You may just get this through your thick skull yet.  What does formative assessment have to do with grades?

COSBY [promptly]: Nothing.

PROFE:  Nothing?  Do you mean to tell me that you're going to make a student work through a whole lesson, turn in a homework assignment, and it's not going to show up on their grade?

COSBY:  Yes, Profe.  It comes back to what you just said--it's about learning.  I believe it was Sensei Marzano who said that learners must do activities without grades attached, to do learning activities just to learn from them, not for the grades.  Besides, if they're graded on it, lots of students won't do it.

PROFE:  Do you even have to record who's done it and who hasn't, then?  If it doesn't count, then you're not marking it in your grade book, are you?

COSBY:  Respectfully, I disagree, Profe.  If it really is formative assessment, then you need to know how well your learners have done on it, so you know what you need to do to make them better, or whether they're good enough and you can move on.

PROFE:  What about the ones who don't do it?

COSBY:  There's value in knowing who those students are, too.  Maybe they don't know how to do it at all.  Maybe they can do some of it with help.  Maybe they were just absent that day.  The point is, you don't know unless you record the data somewhere.

PROFE [thinks for a moment]:  What is the source of Education Fu?

COSBY:  Profe?  I'm not sure I understand.

PROFE:  Formative assessments.  Summative assessments.  Learning activities.  Instruction.  Where does it all begin?

COSBY:  Umm....Classroom management?

PROFE:  Wrong!  That's just the dojo, that's just where it happens.  Where does it come from?

COSBY [takes a slow breath in through the nose, lets it out through the mouth]: Learning goals.

PROFE:  Hmm.  Your learning seems to be progressing, Saltamontes.  10 more years of hard training, and you might--might, I say--be ready to begin teaching at the professional level.

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