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Grade Like A Torpedo

Today, as I was reading one of my new favorite books, Teach Like A Pirate by Dave Burgess, I came across a metaphor that I'm sure will stick with me.  It's the metaphor of the torpedo.

In his chapter "Ask and Analyze,"  Burgess shares a story he read in Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz.  Maltz says that humans achieve goals similarly to the way a torpedo finds its mark.  "The torpedo accomplishes its goal by going forward, making errors, and continuously correcting them.  By a series of zigzags it literally gropes its way to the goal."

Burgess goes on to add, "The missile is likely to be off target a far greater percentage of the time than it is on target.  Nevertheless, it arrives and hits its target because of the constant adjustments made based on continual analysis of the feedback provided."

Dave Burgess uses this story about the torpedo to suggest that great teaching is the result of constant adjustments based on feedback and results from the classroom.  However, I couldn't help but think about grading when I read this.

Members of the The Assessment FOR Learning Network probably see the immediate connection between this analogy and the principles of Assessment FOR Learning.  Just like a torpedo, the student is often "off target" as the learning process unfolds.  However, the teacher and the student keep making corrections based on continuous feedback.  In the end, the target is reached.  AFL teachers understand that the feedback is given for the purpose of learning FIRST.  Grading is secondary and should reflect the final outcome - not the journey.  

I couldn't help picturing the torpedo in this story hitting a ship captained by an educator who still holds on to the traditional method of grading in which ALL measurements, ALL feedback, and ALL digressions from the correct path are averaged together to come up with a final grade.  In my mind, I see this angry teacher/captain yelling at the submarine something to this effect:

That's not fair!  Your torpedo can't sink my ship!!!  Most of your torpedo's path was off target.  It's unfair to count that as a hit unless your torpedo was on target for the entire path it took!

Of course, the captain is yelling this as his or her ship slowly sinks into the ocean.  The captain doesn't have to like the path the torpedo took.  It really doesn't matter.  In the end, the torpedo found its mark.  The smartest course of action would be to accept reality and abandon ship.  

The same goes for grading.  Who cares if the student hadn't mastered the concept at some random point along the way?  What we really care about is whether or not the student finally gets it.  Everything that happens along the way is feedback for the teacher and the student to use to ensure the ultimate goal is met.

Have you started thinking about next school year yet?  When you do, give some thought to how you might GRADE LIKE A TORPEDO.

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Student Self-Assessment

If you've read much on this Assessment FOR Learning site you're aware of the 4 components of The Heart of AFL.  One of those key components is that students will use feedback to guide their own learning on both a short- and long-term basis.  

This concept often causes educators to roll their eyes as they think to themselves, "No student of mine ever asked for feedback to guide his learning!"  It often seems like students either don't care about their learning or only care about it to the extent that they collect enough points to receive a high grade.  

If we're not satisfied with this - if we want students to take ownership of their learning instead of being disengaged or only care about point accumulation - then we need to provide them the tools they need to reach a higher level.  One of the reasons this entire site exists is to provide teachers with the assessment tools they AND their students need to learn - and learning is what WE care about much more than points and grades.

Recently, David Wallace, an art teacher at Salem High School, shared with me this tool he has created to help his students take ownership of their learning.  He calls this specific tool a Project Report.  (A copy of the Project Report can be found by clicking on the words "Project Report" or by scrolling to the bottom of this post.)  He has slightly different yet similar tools for different purposes, but the goal is always the same.  Students in his class are trained to assess how much they know before doing something and then trained compare that to how much they know after completion of the project.  Furthermore, they are trained to assess the results of their work.  With a tool like this, students can better determine what they need to do in order to improve.

Notice how I keep using the word "train"?  This is exactly what a great teacher does.  Students rarely enter the room with all the tools they need for success.  It is our job as educators to train them.  Training must be specific and include how to use the tools they need.  Simply telling students they ought to keep up with their progress is not enough.  We must give them the tools to do so, train them to use the tools, and then require that they do so.

Mr. Wallace's Project Report was obviously designed for an Art classroom, but I bet you can figure out how to apply a tool like this to whatever content area or grade level you teach.  Got any ideas?


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Focused Formatives

I came across this blog by Cassandra Erkens recently from a link on Twitter.  I was reminded of 2 things:

  1. Twitter is an excellent resource for professional development and professional growth, and
  2. Formative Assessment - Assessment FOR Learning - just makes sense.

I love how Erkens provides practical ideas for implementing AFL strategies into a classroom.  More importantly, though, is how she helps teachers decide what to STOP doing in order to make room for the new strategies.

Follow this link to read Focused Formatives by Cassandra Erkens.  You can follow Cassandra on Twitter at @cerkens.

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