Thursday, July 8, 2010

Some Ideas That Need to be Discarded, Retired, and Left Behind

As an added benefit to my students, there are a few practices I have used that definitely need to be retired and discarded. Each winter and spring select grade levels are required to perform in a choral concert. I had gotten into a routine where students learned their music by rote: I model, they echo, and so the process continued until the students had “learned” the music for the concert. I did not enjoy pounding out notes and I could see on the faces of my students and hear in their voices the discontent they felt when they knew they had to go through the routine of learning the music for the concert.

After delving into the idea of project-based learning, I know there must be a better way to guide students to a successful concert. This practice of always being the model and giving direct instruction does a disservice to my students and to me. It does not allow students to learn musicality or think critically. It does not allow my students to interact with the music or feel any ownership for their performances.

It also does not allow me to show my students that I trust them to make appropriate, musical decisions. It does not allow me to have the optimal rapport with them that they need from a teacher. If I am teaching in such a manner that students get frustrated with or in ways that they do not connect, much more of my time is apt to be spent dealing with discipline issues or apathetic attitudes. As a result students are less likely to want to participate and contribute to both the preparation process and the concert itself.

This past winter, this statement showed true when nearly fifteen fifth grade boys did not show up to our Winter Concert, but went to wrestling practice instead. As a teacher I was infuriated by their decision. However, when reality set in I realized that this situation could have been avoided. If I had created and fostered an environment of ownership, encouragement, and collaboration I feel that the boys who would have chosen wrestling practice over the Winter Concert may have felt a sense of pride in the work they had put in to preparing for the concert and changed their minds about which commitment to honor that night. The turnout of that concert has been a very sobering experience that I am determined to move forward from.

Another current practice I am ready to shed is the way I use rubrics and assess students for grading. Throughout the year I had become convinced that using rubrics to assess students based on the “quality” of their work was the best way to grade my students. However, after many attempts at trying to create the “perfect” rubric my efforts always seemed to fall short of the actual assessment goal. So many of my students fell between the cracks, and I couldn’t necessarily assign a grade of one whole number. Students were falling short of one number but attaining more than the number below it, making the decision of the actual final grade very difficult.

It was also difficult to assess students because there were so many to give grades to and keep track of. It became nearly impossible to say, “Yes, this student puts forth his best work all the time and works as a good team member,” or, “No, this student is not reaching his full potential or being a good team member.” How na├»ve of me to try and assign a grade to students as a teacher with limited knowledge of their abilities and teamwork when the students themselves are the ones that know if they are challenging themselves during the activities.

Phil Greco allowed us to look at the assessment method he uses with his students in the classroom that is a much better method of assessment. It is based on questions students must ask themselves such as “To what extent did I contribute during the presentation?” or “To what extent did your group demonstrate understanding of the ‘big idea’?” Students are asked to think within themselves and answer the questions with a rating of 0 to 5. They are also asked to rationalize why they rated themselves as such and complete short-answer questions based on their culminating experience with the project.

I think utilizing this kind of assessment system is a much more efficient method because it allows students to reflect on the quality of work they put forth as well as how the interacted with one another. It is also a more authentic form of assessment because it provides the teacher with insight into how the students felt about the process, product, and experience of the project or activity.

I plan on utilizing this method of assessment much more often in my classroom setting because I am not only curious what students think about themselves and their growth within the activity, but because I feel that this form of assessment would allow me as the teacher to know my students and how they perceive themselves. Ultimately this change in assessment could prove very beneficial for both my students and myself because it will allow for a much more authentic product.

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