Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Today I gave them the answer

Today I gave my honors chemistry students the answer.

Today was a half day, with shorter periods. We'd just tested on Unit 3 yesterday, so starting the new unit right before Thanksgiving break didn't make much sense.

Besides, formal lab reports are due Monday, so I figured I'd spend our 36 minutes going over the lab. I decided to make copies of parts of the same report written by one of my students last year. He had done a particularly fine job on the data section, and his explanation section would provide lots of fodder for discussion.

Then I hesitated. "Wait, what am I doing?," I thought, "I can't show them a perfect example of data tables! Isn't that part of the assessment, to see if they can figure out how to set them up? If they model theirs after his, how will I know if they could have done it on their own? It's like giving them the answer."

But then I asked myself, "Is that what this is all about, finding out what they can do? Is this some twisted game of hide-and-seek, or is it about helping them master the skills?"

I opted for helping them master the skills, and gave them the table. I realized that, too often, I have this warped attitude about assessment, too much focus on measuring students' ability and performance, as if my primary job were to provide ratings, scores, and measurements, to be a sort of gatekeeper.

Granted, potential employers and colleges will want to see a GPA or SAT so they can try to judge whether or not the student will be successful, and I suppose I help provide that "rating." But my job is really more about enhancing performance than measuring it. It's less about pronouncing judgement, and more about providing assistance, less about acting as a filter or gateway, and more about providing footholds and ladders.
So today I gave them the answer, but only because I thought they needed a better foothold, and what's really important is not assessing their ability to make a beautiful data table, but enhancing their ability to produce a beautiful data table.

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