Friday, April 26, 2013

Why We Need to Listen (1)

I (and pretty much most of my colleagues) have been raised in educational systems where your achievement was measured almost entirely through written products: quizzes, tests, exams. Sometimes these 'written' products were multiple choice tests and involved no writing at all to be evaluated. As teachers, this reliance on a written product is a hard habit to break; it is a habit which I have spent no small amount of time trying to justify to parents and students in the past. 
In the past few years, however, I have been completely deconstructing my original beliefs on how to evaluate students. If truth were to be told, I don't think I was ever truly comfortable with the way I was evaluating students. I often faced situations where I knew that students understood a particular concept but this wouldn't be reflected in what they wrote down. Or maybe I wasn't good enough to interpret what they were writing. Consider this question which I gave a Grade 8 class:
One morning, a cake shop bakes four hundred donuts. They sell two-fifths of these before lunch. They sell one-quarter of the remainder after lunch. How many donuts are left at the end of the day?
Now look at what this student wrote and ask yourself what grade you might give this (If you teach in Ontario, you might want to consider what level you would give this for Communication).
Now listen to what the student says when she explains her solution:

I have shown this to hundreds of educators across Ontario and the experience is always the same. Initially most people say that the student's thinking isn't clear. After listening to the explanation almost everyone agrees that the student does indeed explain her thinking clearly.
It stands to reason then that if we are not intentionally incorporating observations and conversations into our evaluations then our evaluation practices are ineffective.

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