Peter also talks about assessing what we value. The fifth post in this series will address this idea.
In addition to assessing the outcomes in our math curriculum, Peter encourages us to think about some of the challenges our students have in math class and then consider assessing them. For example, if you find that your students are struggling with group work, assess it, and then they’ll improve in this area. I will describe his strategy. He makes two columns on the board and writes Bad Group work and the other is Good Group work. Then he asks students what good group work looks like and lists the students’ ideas in that column. Then the students do the same for the qualities of bad group work. Then he draws a line, as a continuum, from the bad to the good columns. This is what it could look like:
Then a teacher makes several copies of this chart and, as students work, he/she puts a check mark on the continuum for each group in the class indicating their performance. The students receive immediate feedback and can adjust their behaviour. This formative assessment could be offered several times in a lesson/activity or over several weeks.
Sam Shah, a teacher in Brooklyn, New York, has created a SMART Notebook file that focuses on group work as well. He displays a page that looks like this:
The phrases you see here were created by students. Sam infinitely clones them so he can drag the comments into the four boxes (four groups) or out of the boxes as he assesses group behaviour. There is no paper used and it is quick and efficient way for a teacher to observe students and provide them timely and specific comments. Teachers save the Notebook file to keep track of this data.
Peter says it is very important to teach and give students feedback on these skills. As we expect students to collaborate more and more in math class, for example, those who don’t do this very well, could suffer academically. Imagine a student who doesn’t do his fair share of the work or misses some class time due to poor group behaviour. For both of these reasons this student probably will miss some of the mathematical concepts presented in class and then, on summative assessments, perform poorly. It is, therefore, our professional obligation to help students learn to collaborate, communicate, persevere, take risks, etc. to be successful mathematically.
Which skills would I emphasize, teach and encourage in math classes? First, I think the ‘soft skills‘ that help a person interact more effectively with others would be important. The 7 process skills in Alberta’s K-12 Program of Studies which include communication, connections, mental math and estimation, problem solving, reasoning, technology and visualization, would also be key. As well, since learning about Alberta’s Framework for Student Learning, I am reflecting on how to help students develop the seven competencies outlined in this document.
Again, the bottom line is, if you value it, assess it. I believe that this is the way to go but it will be challenging to determine the indicators of success for these skills and competencies and then determine ways to assess them.