I am becoming a firm believer that every teacher NEEDS to ask themselves this question before every test or quiz. Doctors run tests to determine the state of health of their patient. They use the results of that test to form a plan to improve that state, either through diet, exercise, medicine, or therapy.
I want my tests and quizzes to serve the same purpose as tests in the medical or scientific domains. I want my tests and quizzes to be a diagnosis of mathematical skill and knowledge.
I don't ever want my tests or quizzes to be a punishment. I don't want them to be a vehicle for my students to feel poorly about themselves, or about math.
Math is portrayed as the enemy in TV and movies all the time! In The Neverending Story, when Bastian is late to school, he decides that it would be better to hide in the school attic for an entire day than to go to class and take a math test.
|"Math test! Oh no....!"|
In a perfect world, I want my students to be excited about tests and quizzes. I want them to think "Awesome! A chance to show off what I know!" or, even better, "Awesome! A chance to demonstrate my productive struggle!"
|"I LOVE DEMONSTRATING KNOWLEDGE!!!"|
In my current reality, I would like my students to see tests as a road map for their next steps. When I hand the test out, I want the students to say "Awesome! A chance to know where I am!"
That will never happen with the traditional way that I've been grading my tests and quizzes. Students, especially ones in lower-level classes, have a tendency to look at the grade and throw the test away, never to think of it again. With traditional grading of tests, there's no need to look at it again. The scores indicate one of three things.
1) A or B: You know most of the stuff. Keep up the good work.
2) C or D: You don't know enough stuff. Study more.
3) F: You know nothing. Give up. Go play in traffic.
I believe that these grades and lack of meaningful feedback are what lead many students (and the people) to the idea that they are "bad at math."
And so I am changing how I grade my tests.
My district "strongly encourages" the use of multiple choice tests to "prepare them for the standardized testing that they will receive." I don't disagree with this, but just because I'm giving multiple choice tests, doesn't mean I have to give binary feedback.
When a student gets a test back with items marked right or wrong and nothing else, they learn nothing except which problems they got right or wrong.
I am no expert at giving meaningful feedback, but I would like to be. To this end, I came up with a tw-part plan.
Part 1: I spent an absurd amount of time grading my 21 questions quizzes. Instead of just marking the answers right or wrong, I did something else.
On the questions that were right, I left smiley faces!
On the ones that weren't, I tried to see why the student got the answer and left them encouraging comments on their strategies as well as hints on where they made their mistakes.
Part 2: Today's assignment was to take the feedback that I gave and correct the mistakes. I didn't just want corrections though, so for each problem, they needed to write two lines explaining why they got the questions wrong ("What was my mistake?") and then give them correct answer while showing all of their work.
A large portion of the students did not use this time wisely. They looked at it as an opportunity to sit and talk about the weekend. When I asked them about their work, the typical reply was "I don't know what I did wrong." It took much of my patience and questioning abilities to keep them on track. I will admit that I didn't put as much into this as I could have or should have. I allowed myself to think "these are the choices they are making. I can encourage them to work, but I can't force them."
I fully believe in the efficacy of this tactic over time. Even if the majority of the students didn't do the revisions well, it was the first time that they were asked to complete such a task. They were given a good amount of freedom and responsibility and many did not use it well, but it was their choice. Tomorrow, we are going to talk about how those choices impact their knowledge and grades.
I believe that as I get better at providing them feedback, they will be better at knowing what I'm looking for and expecting of them. Hopefully, that will translate to knowing what they should expect of themselves.
I have to keep reminding myself of my purpose here. I have to remind myself that they don't automatically know what I want them to do and how I want them to do it. I have to remember that it will take time.
I also have to remember that if I want them to improve with their work, I need to improve with my feedback. I'm not sure how to do it since I'm incredibly lazy and this takes an insane amount of time, but I think it's worth it. I'm asking them to do something that they've never done before. And my asking is something that I'VE never done before.
I'm looking forward to learning with them.