A couple of years ago I got rid of my classroom desk. I overheard a student talking about a teacher, saying that “teacher just sits there behind the desk all day…” I didn’t know if they were talking about me or not. I knew that they could be. I knew that I spent a lot of time at my desk, especially after lunch. I was tired and wanted to sit down. I realized more often than not students came to me with questions instead of the other way around. I tried to resist the urge to sit at the desk, but I kept finding myself there, sitting at the desk. So I got rid of it. If I didn’t have a desk no one could say I just sat at it!
In the process of getting rid of the desk I totally redesigned the room into what I think of now as a maker space. (At the time I hadn’t heard the term.) Student computer work stations around the perimeter of the room and work tables in the middle. It worked great for a while. I was on my feet walking the room all day. Yes I was tired at the end of the day, but the improved interactions with kids made it worth it.
When we came back from winter break I found a new chair in the room. My principal got me a new “draftsman chair” so that I could sit at the big work tables. Bless his heart. He went out of his way to get this chair just for me, so I sat in it. A lot. I soon found that one of the large work tables became my desk, and I sat there, a lot. Again.
Don’t get me wrong, I need a workstation. I have to take attendance on a computer, and the tablets I have access to don’t work so well for that. I have to have a computer to demonstrate what the students are supposed to be learning, and that computer has to be somewhere. So that spot becomes a work station. I need to keep reminding myself it is a workstation, not a Mark station.
So the nice new chair is now sitting in the corner of the room by the sink. I found it makes a nice coat rack. I need to keep walking the room.
Yesterday we held our annual SkillsUSA Regional Competition. For those that don’t know, SkillsUSA is a national student led career and technical organization. Students compete in career or leadership related events. Welding students, for example, are presented with materials and drawings and asked to produce the piece depicted in the drawing. Leadership students might present their student designed and implemented community service project. It is, I believe, a fantastic way to assess what students are learning in the classroom. Which brings me to the point of my blogpost this morning.
The Washington Post this morning ran a story by Valerie Strauss called “How we teach kids to cheat on tests.” The story does a pretty good job of summarizing what happens when we put too much importance on the test score, or the quiz score.
This morning Daniel Ching @danielpching published a blog post “The importance of process” in which he talks about the importance of providing feedback throughout the process of learning, and grading that process. Too often we educators put all of the grade on the final test, and the students loose out as a result.
So lets go back to the SkillsUSA event yesterday. I was asked to run the Quiz Bowl event. This is sort of a “Jeopardy” type event where students, working in teams of 5, are asked a variety of questions. Questions include basic math, geometry, science, world and national politics, current events, and career related questions. It was fascinating for me to watch how students solved problems. Yea there were obscure questions where everyone in the room threw up there hands and said “whats a minority whip?” They were 10th and 11th graders after all. But for other questions it was interesting to me to watch the students break off into twos and threes and come up with their own answers, talk their way through the questions, and come to an agreement on the answer. I could easily see strengths and weaknesses for each student. More importantly the students could see their own strengths and weaknesses. They were arguing for their answers, and providing evidence to support those answers.
I learned much more about what these students knew by standing in the room and listening to them talk to each other than I ever would learn from the results of a test. Just as I learn more about what my students know by listening to them as they prepare for their presentations.
My students typically participate in the Career Pathways Showcase. In this event they prepare a presentation where they demonstrate what they have learned. On Friday a group of students was preparing their presentation and one of them said “We should bring the books we read as evidence of our learning. We could talk about the books.” Another group decided to bring a stack of their mistakes, and talk about what they learned from them. I didn’t tell them to do these things, they decided it was the best way to demonstrate their learning.
I think these SkillsUSA events are much better assessments of student learning than any test. So no, there is not going to be a quiz on this on Friday.