29 November 2007

Um...I Don't Think So

I was chatting with a friend the other day, comparing recent experiences with students. I told him about a lab I was debriefing with one of my classes of students. After we talked about what the data meant, their first task was to write a conclusion. Keep in mind, they've written lots of these for me this year, but not in the past couple of weeks. So, we talked about what needed to be included (again). They were eager to volunteer what the three most important pieces were. "Great!" I thought. "They know what to do." I set them loose to do the work...and a few minutes later as kids were bringing me their work, I saw that only two of them had actually written a proper conclusion. WTF? Did we not just review what they needed to write about?! So, I handed the papers back out and told them that these conclusions were most definitely not up to standard. We looked at the board again, where I had captured their thoughts about what constituted a conclusion. "You know what to do. Why didn't you do it?" They looked sheepish, but they made a second (and much improved) effort. (All of this after I handed back a lab earlier in the week which also had a disappointing lack of thinking displayed in their answers. Sigh.)

My friend had a similar tale of laziness amongst his students. Somehow, we both thought it important to tell kids to do it right and immediately make sure they did. We talked about needing to do more of this. I think it's especially important at this time of year, as kids really are starting to slack off in terms of performance. In terms of formative assessment, I'm always okay with kids orally demonstrating learning. It's okay sometimes for summative work, too; however, the writing is a often a better form of evidence because I can track it over time much more easily. Meanwhile, the state test is four months away---and they will definitely have to write on that.

The other part of our conversation was simply around the idea that it is frustrating that at the 10th grade level, we are still having to break down every skill and scaffold it. I had to work with an awful lot of kids this week on how to write a research question. Their hypotheses and conclusions are looking good (when they write them), but there are so many pieces to develop. I can't blame previous teachers---because I know that many of them have taught these concepts. Somehow, the learning either didn't stick, or is currently stored in a place in students' minds where it isn't being retrieved.

In the meantime, I plan to keep calling kids on their "not best" work. They're going to be seeing a lot more assignments coming back and hearing me say "Um...I don't think so. Do it again."

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