Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Measuring (and teaching) responsibility

We all want our students to learn responsibility--to turn assignments in on time, but are late penalties the answer? Giving zeros for missed homework and subtracting 10% per day from late reports seems to make sense at first, but consider this:

I always have a couple of students who have trouble submitting their formal lab reports on time. They are worth 100 points out of a total of 500 points per quarter. If they turn in a report 5 days late, and I subtract 50 points, then 10% of their quarter grade depends only on whether or not they could turn this one report in on time. If we throw late homework and other assignments into the mix, it's conceivable that turning assignments in on time could end up amounting to 50% or more of a student's grade.

Heck, if we assign zeros to missed work, a kid's entire course grade could be nothing more than a measure of his or her inability to meet deadlines.

I agree that teaching responsibility is important, but is this really what we intend?

My goal this year in my mastery-based, differentiated biology class was to teach and measure mastery of biology and six non-cognitive skill areas, called GLEAMS. The A in GLEAMS stands for Aim, and I used this to measure goal-setting and deadline-keeping.

I had started by using rubrics to assign ratings to the six areas, keeping them separate from the overall course grade. I had planned to require mastery of each one in order to get credit for the course. I had done this with some success last year in geology.

The idea behind this is that the course grade itself would be a measure of mastery of biology, not the ability to meet assignment deadlines.

I ended up abandoning the GLEAMS system about half way through the year, not because it wasn't working, but simply because I had trouble keeping up with it. I even included GLEAMS in the student planning and self-assessment Google forms the kids were doing for every project, so the data was there--I just didn't have the time to track it.

And there were consequences.

As much as I tried to motivate students to work at a fast pace using only autonomy, mastery, and purpose, I think something was missing. I was no longer teaching or measuring mastery of the goal-setting and deadline-meeting skills.

I tried to remedy this with some encouragement in this area (Problem, Probe, Product, Pronto), but without measurement, I feel like it had little power. We all need immediate feedback in order to tap the motivating power of mastery.

I have a band-aid, temporary fix idea for this I'm going to try out this summer for my online science enrichment course, The History and Philosophy of Science (In 6 easy Steps): I'm simply going to make deadline-meeting a fixed percentage of the course grade--say 5%, and keep it in it's own category.

This isn't ideal, because the course grade will be a mix of cognitive and non-cognitive skills, but it's better than simply deducting late penalties. For one thing, at least it will be clear in the grade book where the mastery lies. And secondly, the value of deadline-meeting will be kept to a fixed level.

Now, I just need to be more intentional and explicit about teaching responsibility. After all, if we're measuring it, we'd better be teaching it, and measurement isn't the same as teaching.

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