08 December 2007

I Submit to You

For those of you who read the header of this post and immediately imagined fuzzy handcuffs, you're going to be disappointed with the rest of this. Just click the "Back" button on your browser and move on with your day.

The header is taken from a presentation by Rick Stiggins. He used the phrase no less than 11 times in one hour. I was more of a purist in tracking this than the people at the next table---who also included all of his "I suggest to you..." and similar sentence starters and therefore had a much higher count at the end of the speech. Stiggy has not been a fav of mine for a long time (long story), but his keynote yesterday morning really ticked me off.

His basic call to arms was around report cards. In his mind they are hopeless and outdated because they don't communicate the depth and quality of information all possible stakeholders might need. Grades and report cards are dinosaurs.

Okay---I would agree that a single report card is highly unlikely to tell kids, parents, teachers, admins, community members, etc. everything possible about where a student is in terms of achievement. Ricky-baby, they aren't meant to do so. A report card is one out of a myriad of ways schools communicate with stakeholders about student progress. Every time a teacher provides supportive feedback, every time kids peer edit work, every time a teacher calls home to a parent or writes a letter of recommendation---communication happens. There is no need for a report card to be everything to everyone. (I shiver to picture what it would look like if it did.) Maybe the "communication system" Stiggy was wailing about needing (he really does like to yell into the microphone) is already available. We have way more data at our fingertips than what is found simply in report cards.

My second issue with His Stigginsness was his view of motivation. One of his basic assumptions is that every classroom environment is one of performance---and he provided not a single frame of reference to mastery classrooms. Achievement motivation theory has been the preeminent framework for studying student motivation for more than 20 years. Don't stand up there and claim some expertise in assessment and motivation and then give your listeners only half the picture because the other half undermines the point you want to make. Maybe it isn't a question of what report cards do or don't communicate. Maybe the big picture is really on what happens in the classroom environment on a daily basis that supports student learning. "Assessment for Learning" is all well and good---but you have to give it a context.

So, I submit to you that Stiggins' grasp of standards-based environments is rather flawed. Those of us in those environments are going to have to raise our voices.


Clix said...

I understand your first point, but not your second. From what I can tell, SpeakerDude said... something... about motivation in classrooms that applied to performance classrooms but not mastery ones?

What was his point, and how would it have been undermined by examining motivation in mastery classrooms?

The Science Goddess said...

His point was that grades are dinosaurs because they don't relate to motivation (one of the primary reasons teachers assign grades).

The basic claim was that grades as motivators only have positive effects such as good behavior, compliance, and completing work; and negative effects of grade-seeking vs. learning, cynicism, cheating, and giving up when tasks get difficult. These things are true---but only for performance environments.

Mastery environments are also motivational ones for learning, but they engender an entirely different set of effects on behavior. Stiggins completely ignored these, putting forward that grades and motivation are only connected in a performance way.

Stiggins further believes that scaffolding tasks and giving kids hope of reaching a goal is how they will meet standards. It's naive to think that this is enough without ensuring that as much of the classroom environment as possible is constructed to emphasize learning over grades. He has no sense of context for what he's saying...and is only providing half of the picture of what motivational environments are for students.

Tom Brandt said...

I was intrigued by your comments and general attitude about Dr. Stiggins, so I decided to find something on-line he had written about his area of expertise, assessment. I’ll skip the intermediate thinking about my negative impression about the man and jump my point.

He published an article with Jan Chappuis with the title: Using Student-involved Classroom Assessment to Close Achievement Gaps. My first strong impression was and remains that the authors are over intellectualizing their message. They wait until half way through their short paper (7 pages) to bring up their most important point, that being there are 2 types of assessment. One is FOR learning (as part of the curriculum and contributes directly to the learning process – my words) and assessment OF learning, you know, standardized test, grade cards, etc.

Why couldn’t the authors start with this core idea, develop it into a useable technique with practical examples, and then, if they must, add the intellectual stuff at the end for those not convinced of the value of their thinking. The authors seem to want to create a complex system of assessment activities. Certainly a degree of self assessment by students is a good thing. But it is as though the authors want to make intellectual clones of themselves in the assessing students.

I just went back and reviewed your post, Ms Science Goddess, and you did not mention these two types of assessment. If Dr. Stiggins can mention this in the home page of his website, why is he not making this the core of his presentations to the people he wishes to adopt and implement his ideas? Instead he seems to trash the idea of grade cards because of their inherent limitations, and alienate at least one of his audience members.

Certainly an amount of self-assessment by students as part of the curriculum can be a good thing. Yet one of the leaders of this idea seems to not be able to get his point across.

The Science Goddess said...

I tend to think that Stiggins does an okay job when he sticks to the topic of assessment---especially how to design "metrics" for gathering information on student performance.

The "Assessment for Learning" message is just starting to get out there. There is more than just Stiggins' voice pushing forward ideas around formative and summative assessment and how to use that information; however the focus of his keynote was not around this particular idea, but rather how report cards should be considered obsolete because they don't communicate all possible information to every stakeholder.

Stiggins has a strong voice in the educational community. I just think he has a responsibility to use that voice wisely.