welding (2)

Laying an AFL Bead in Welding

When our school first starting investigating Assessment FOR Learning 4 years ago, the first teacher we had address our faculty with an AFL classroom example was Bert Weschke, our Welding teacher.  Recently, as I have engaged in some conversations about applying AFL practices to the classroom - or more specifically, NOT applying those strategies - I have come back in my mind to Bert's example.  There's a lot to learn about AFL from the way Bert Weschke teaches students to "lay a bead".

A weld bead is a deposit of metal that results from a passing of the welding torch over metal.  Bert shared that when teaching students to lay a bead, he has them practice numerous times on a piece of metal.  As they are practicing, he is moving around the room providing them with feedback.  He has already taught/lectured on how to lay a bead.  Now, as he moves about the room, his students get plenty of practice and receive plenty of feedback.  

Eventually, the student will have to submit a bead that receives a summative grade.  Until that point, though, each student will repeat the process over and over with the goal of mastery in mind.  The feedback the student receives might come in the form of a grade - such as "If this was the final product you'd get a C." - but it isn't going to impact the grade.  

This seems to me to be the common sense way to teach Welding.  Imagine a Welding teacher lecturing and demonstrating how to make a bead, telling the students to study his notes on bead laying that night, and then taking his students into the shop the next day for a hands-on test before moving on to the next topic.  It just wouldn't make sense - unless, of course, mastery of the skill was not the goal.

So why does it make sense to teach this way in a Science class or a History class or any other classroom? It doesn't.

If students are going to master content THEY MUST BE GIVEN OPPORTUNITIES TO PRACTICE THE CONTENT AND THEY MUST RECEIVE FEEDBACK FROM THE TEACHER.  Grading the student really should be secondary.  The feedback could look like a grade - "If the final test were today you'd have a C." - but it really shouldn't be what determines the grade.  

It's true that some students can listen to a lecture or read notes and then do well on a test, but:

1. Not all can,

2. This doesn't ensure long-term learning, and

3. This makes the teacher irrelevant.

No matter the level of the student or the level of the course, teachers MUST provide opportunities for practice and they must give regular feedback along the way.  That feedback could be entered into a grade book; it could be a score on a unique feedback scale (such as a check or check+); it could be descriptive and in paragraph format, or it could be a simple statement such as "Keep working on _____."  

How much feedback is too much?  If you're following kids home in the afternoon to give them feedback instead of being with your family, then you probably need to stop.  Until then, keep giving feedback.

As I think about Bert's example of teaching Welding, I'm reminding of several History professors I had in college.  By lecturing and giving notes without any feedback or assessment prior to the quiz, large test, or exam, essentially these professors ended up assessing whether or not:

1. I had strong listening skills,

2. I could memorize notes, and/or

3. I could teach myself.

What they weren't assessing was how well THEY TAUGHT me the content.

Let's not be like those professors.  Instead, let's be like a good Welding instructor.  Let's make sure that students have many opportunities to practice and receive FEEDBACK.  Let's make sure TEACHERS lead students to mastery.

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Why do you assess your students? A teacher's answer to this question reveals much about what that teacher values.  

For example, if a teacher's answers to the question center around determining a student's grade for a report card or transcript or around figuring out how much a student learned at the end of instruction, then it's obvious the teacher places a great emphasis on grading.

On the other hand, if a teacher's answers center around providing the teacher and the student with feedback so that more appropriate instructional and learning decisions can be made, then it's obvious the teacher places a great emphasis on learning.

This post is written to provide those teachers who care more about learning than they do about grading with an analogy that will help them productively focus their assessment efforts.

At a recent Salem High School faculty meeting, SHS Welding Teacher, Joshua Graham, shared with his colleagues the assessment tools and practices that he and his fellow Trades and Industrial teachers use to help them help students learn.  He spoke about several software programs they use to assess student progress and to provide students with descriptive feedback to help them focus their study habits.  He talked about using assessment data to evaluate his teaching and to enable him to make more student-centered decisions.

The content of Josh's presentation was insightful and the strategies shared exemplary.  Near the end of it, though, he shared with us a rather simple analogy that has profoundly impacted the way I now view an educator's assessment role.

Josh shared with us that, along with other women in their church, his wife was reading a book entitled Leading and Loving It.  The book included an analogy that Josh took and applied to assessment.  It was the analogy of The Thermometer v. The Thermostat.

The Thermometer

Think about what a thermometer does.  A thermometer gives you a temperature at a certain point in time.  Let's pretend you have a thermometer in your home.  By checking its reading, you will know the air temperature in your home.

What does the thermometer do FOR the temperature in your home?  Nothing.  While a thermometer is a useful tool, it simply provides us with information.  It does nothing to alter or change that information.

The Thermostat

Now consider the thermostat.  Like the thermometer, the thermostat also checks the temperature at a certain point.  In fact, by checking the thermostat in your home you can find out the air temperature in your home just like you could with a thermometer.

But the thermostat also does something FOR the temperature in your home.  The thermostat takes the temperature, compares that to the DESIRED temperature outcome, and then makes adjustments to increase or decrease the temperature accordingly.

While a thermometer is a useful tool, a thermostat is a much more powerful tool and a much more impactful tool.  With only a thermometer you would be able to verify the fact that your house was too hot, too cold, or just right.  But with a thermostat you can actually control the temperature outcome.

Josh explained this analogy and then applied it to assessment by encouraging his colleagues to be thermostats - not thermometers.  Being a thermometer is fine if our goal for assessment is to determine a grade.  We can teach a unit of content, asses our students to see how well they learned it, record that "temperature", and move on.  

But if our goal for assessment is to increase learning, then we have to be thermostats.  The thermostat teacher is constantly assessing so he or she knows where his students - collectively and individually - are in the learning process.  Then the thermostat teacher makes the necessary adjustments in teaching so that the "temperature" changes appropriately.  The thermostat teacher trains students to be thermostats as well, always self-assessing and analyzing feedback to determine what adjustments need to be made at their end.  

Simply put, the thermometer teacher can document IF students learned.  The thermostat teacher increases learning.

So why do you assess?  If it is to increase learning, then consider how the analogy of The Thermostat might be applied to your classroom.

Thanks, Josh! 

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