Reflections on Chapters 1-3 of “Fair isn’t always equal: assessing & grading in the differentiated classroom.”

Chapter 1:

Differentiation is not a “new” idea.  Before thinking about grading, it is important to understand and accept differentiation as it is meant to be: good teaching with the ultimate goal of student growth. It entails approaching students in different teaching ways that are appropriate for their needs and that will help students reach their potential.

Chapter 2:

The simile example in this chapter is interesting.  I have trouble with one assumption the author makes from the student’s response.  The assumption that students understands the difference between a simile and a metaphor because he did not circle any of the metaphors does not necessarily mean that the student knows what a metaphor is and can there differentiate it from a simile.  I feel that the one thing that the student demonstrates is that s/he knows that some similes contain the word “like” in them.  The student identified the part of the the sentence following the word “like” as a simile not the portion before the word.  Well, it doesn’t matter because hat is not the point of the chapter.  I agree with the author’s take that mastery can only be assumed if a students demonstrates success multiple times in multiple ways (by multiple ways I mean in different circumstances, for the lack of a better word). So, what is “mastery” for me?

Mastery is…when one is able to retrieve information about a subject, state/express explicit and implicit information about it, does not require assistance in dealing with problems in the subject, is able to deconstruct the subject into foundational ideas, and use the learned information in applicable situations when its most relevant.

Understanding is like…an onion; it is composed of layers of information, neatly stacked and appropriately organized.

My students are literate in my subject when they… can tell the difference between fact, fiction, and opinion, find information independently from an appropriate and legitimate source, can back up claims with appropriate and legitimate evidence.

I found the author’s idea of “mastery” difficult to understand at first; however, he stresses that mastery depends on the objectives of the lesson as well as the enduring understanding.  The standards do not tell us where to start the lessons.  They tell us what the students need to show mastery of.  Therefore, teachers have to “unpack” the standards thoroughly to ensure that students will be taught the “idea/knowledge” in depth, which can then be assessed for mastery.

 

Chapter 3:

What does grading mean? What is its purpose and how do I use it?  I strongly feel that I have a lot of work to do in terms of grading.  I’ve traditionally been the “categories and percentages” guy.  The categories and percentages system I’ve used is based on four-point scale.  Without going in depth of my grading system(s), let me just admit that it does not work.  I’m always bogged down by grading and putting assignments in the computer under their proper categories.  I have also always graded vague things like participation and effort.  And, I’m not even talk about the homework, which is 10% of the grade.  The whole thing is just overwhelming, hard to keep up with, and it fails, fails to produce accurate data about a student’s progress in terms of mastery of the content being taught.

A grading system, like the author suggests, should serve some very vital functions.  My student’s grade should tell me how much they have learned, how much more do they need to learn, and how well have they mastered what I think they have indeed learned.  It should communicate the same things, for the most part, to the parents and the students themselves.  The pass/fail numbers that students get (95, 85, 75, etc.) do not communicate.  They don’t give insight and they don’t give me, the teacher, the information I need to raise my students’ mastery of the subject I teach them.  Consequently, teachers have to create separate data sheets – writing data, reading data, math levels, etc. – to get the information they need to teacher more, teach better, and teach to raise student achievement.  This is a lot of work. (Tangent alert: I tell people that a teacher can perform pretty much any job they can think of.  We have to statisticians, engineers, doctors, psychologists, actors/comedians, computer programmers, and everything else on any given day in a classroom.  This is not to say we are masters of each of these arts but we employ, have to employ, skills and strategies from all sorts of professions).

Wouldn’t it be nice if my grading system accurately reflelcted the needs of my students and helped me identify the things I need to do for to get the student to achieve standards? It would be nice.  

I hope that with the help of the very intelligent group of coworkers, we can arrive at such a system: a system that measures mastery, proficiency, and competency (more on these three categories later).

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