Friday, 15 November 2013

I've made a mistake

As the title suggests, I have made a mistake.

At our recent PD Day session, Eric Twaddell came to speak.  I loved his message about learning and assessment of that learning.  The idea that learning is an ongoing process that shouldn't end when a grade is assigned really resonated with me.  It affirmed my belief that students should be able to fix, fix, fix until they really understand.

In my grade 11 English class, many students were upset about their first essay mark.  Upon meeting with a few parents, I assured them that their teenager had the opportunity to demonstrate their learning with the next essay.  In fact, I'm pretty sure I uttered the words, "If the second essay is a better mark, I won't count the first essay."  When I said it, I believed it.  Why would I keep a grade of an assignment that may not demonstrate their true learning, when I have an assignment that is more recent, shows improvement and assesses the same skills?

Then midterm report cards came.  I just couldn't drop the first mark.  Not yet.  Maybe by the end of the semester.  Instead I played around with weighting.  The most recent essay was worth 100 marks and the first essay worth 50 marks.  I felt professionally comfortable with this.

Then a student asked me about his mark.  His mark reflected a combination of the first and second essays and the seminar.  To be blunt, I felt stupid.  I explained to him that I just couldn't get rid of the first essay mark, but I couldn't elaborate.  If I could redo our conversation, I would explain to him my initial thinking and my concern that, professionally, I couldn't use one essay mark to determine a midterm grade.

I feel dishonest and pedagogically confused.  Dishonest, because I said one thing (with the full intention of following through), but then I just couldn't.  Pedagogically confused, because I'm struggling the idea of grades and what they represent.

My only consolation is that I believe the marks are the ones the students earned and midterm marks aren't the be all and end all.

In the future, I will take more time to reflect about and put into practice my new ideas before talking to parents and students about them.

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