Ditch Grades, Focus on Learning

What may, in the past, have been not much more than a trickle is becoming a wave as more and more educators are turning against the whole concept of grades. These teachers are recognising that there’s so much more that we can do for children by removing grades and, instead using portfolios and comment-based feedback to engage children in the process of how they think about their own learning, how they achieve and what they’re trying to achieve in the future.

As I’ve reported here in the past, moving to ‘comment only feedback’ also brings about incredibly positive changes in the communication between parents and their children to focus on learning as a continuous process.

Such initiatives need all our support:

The Journal – Panel – Ditch Grades Now, Focus On Student Learning

Behaviour Control

If I bought in to the idea that the right way to enable each student to fulfil their long term future in life was through behaviour control and that a teacher’s principle role in the classroom is ‘child control’, then I might be tempted to believe that Classdojo was one of the greatest innovations to hit the classroom. Certainly, plenty of teachers have been buying in to it, with enthusiastic support from lots of parents. These parents would be the kind (I’m not going to name names or even say in which school) who tried to persuade me to have CCTV installed in the classrooms and buses and to give them online access to the live footage – “so we can see what our children are up to during the day.”

Here’s an article about the rising use of Classdojo in English schools:

The Guardian – Good Day At School? There’s An App For That.

I’ve experienced Classdojo over a few months as a parent and also had many interactions with teachers who were using it for a while, and those starting to experiment with it in their classes. Most of the teachers with whom I’ve discussed it had very positive intentions. They talked in terms of reinforcing positive behaviour, encouraging the good etc. etc. However, whenever I talked with teachers who’d been using it for some time and asked the question, “which generates more discussion, the plus marks or the minuses?” their answers were always the minuses.

There’s the first problem. Like test marking, in the minds of students the avoidance of minuses (crosses) becomes far more important than achieving success, mastery or simply getting things right. As a parent I could see clearly why this was so. Human nature dictated that inevitably a day where my son’s Classdojo record showed maybe a single plus would pass without comment. However, as soon as minuses started to appear I inevitably felt the need to question him about them. He, in turn, would become naturally defensive and invariably there was some complex story involving others, provocation etc. In short, it didn’t provide anything of great value and probably was a negative for trust. After a while I became so uncomfortable with it, that I stopped looking at the record.

When it comes to negatives, the article quite rightly picks up n the potential issues regarding privacy. However, it barely touches on the bigger and more important issue – that use of such an app is inherently manipulative and seeks to bring about positive classroom behaviour through coercion and pressure and through wielding external ‘carrot and stick’ motivation. Does this really serve any purpose in the longer term development of the child, or just buy some peace and quiet for the teacher? Also, we’re not talking here about the nature of what’s going on in the classroom and how that encourages and motivates the very bad behaviour that Classdojo then tries to eliminate
or control.

Those educators in the article all say that the scores on Classdojo are a private matter between the child and the teacher (and their parent), but never shown in front of other pupils. However, I’ve even known educators to delegate the inputting task to a student in the class – presumably because the teacher found it distracting from the lesson activity (so what is it for that student?)

There’s a telling sentence in the article – near the beginning where it refers to “at least one teacher in half of all UK schools,” which is very telling about schools culture on this and many other issues. Individual teachers are given the freedom to decide whether to use such software, independent of their peers and the leaders in their school. When a parent admits their child in a particular school, don’t they have a right to expect some commonality, some consistency in policies and the school’s ethos on such matters as discipline? Doesn’t the issue of how children are motivated and the use of extraneous and intrinsic motivation methods come under whole school policies and practices, defined and riven by the values of the school? In short, too often, no it doesn’t. The values, mission etc. are all too often defined poorly, debated and discussed little with the result that each teacher can pretty much choose to define them however they wish in keeping with their personal ethos.

There is a need for innovation in schools and no question in my mind that technology has a great deal to offer in terms of enhancing the learning experience for every child. However, the tail shouldn’t be allowed to wag the dog. Children, their learning, development and their needs should be the drivers of change.

Disillusion with UK School Education

The resistance to change that has been prevalent in education throughout the world in the last 10 years, mean that the pressures of frustration and dissatisfaction continues to grow.

This is an Evening Standard report from London that shows the extent to which OFSTED found boring, dull, uninspiring and complacent teaching in schools and conjectured on the price students were having to pay for it:

Evening Standard article

It struck me, reading this, that in every profession we come across people who are in the wrong place. People whose natural propensities are not really ideally suited to that job or profession, who are not really happy – but, who are not unhappy enough to put themselves to the trouble of getting out and exploring a different job or profession. In most situations, it’s not the end of the world. However, in education and medicine it’s potentially disastrous when the wrong people hang around because it’s just easier than moving to what they should really be doing.

Tragic enough for them, but even more tragic for the pupils or patients on the receiving end. This leads me to think that, as professions, teaching and medicine need even higher levels of accountability so that the “square pegs don’t make themselves comfortable in the round holes.”

Many in school will recall my earlier talks on “What is my Why?” – the importance for each of us to find the significant thing we are meant to do. This is every person’s duty to themselves. The more people do it, the greater the likelihood that the ‘wrong people’ would leave teaching and the ‘right people’ who belong in the profession would enter in greater numbers.

Assessing Teacher Performance – A Hornets’ Nest

The issue of assessing teachers’ performance is controversial enough. However, when you then take the leap on from that and use those assessments to determine bonuses and extra payments for some (and showing the door to others), then you really get in to one of the most disputed and controversial areas in education.

Of course, there are those in many other professional fields who would suggest that there is no logical reason why such methods, prevalent elsewhere for determining accountability and reward, shouldn’t also apply to teachers. However, there are no shortage of teachers who will tell you that the nature of their profession makes it impossible to reduce it down to so many measurable metrics in this way.

Here’s an interesting article from Texas, America that shows the current state of this debate in the US. Panicked about an education system that seems to be failing to maintain the country’s competitiveness in the world, Americans are clearly thrashing around for answers. So, in some places teachers are being assessed on actual performance of the children in their classes, in some places on the basis of ‘value-added’ data measurements (taking in to account starting and ‘finishing’ points), whilst some are advocating for the more subjective analysis through classroom observations.

Dallas News Article

Whilst I’ve got my own thoughts on these different approaches and on the overall issue, I am really very interested to gain a sense of other people’s feelings, especially on the potential applicability of any of these methods in India. It even brings up the question of the extent to which the school or the education system is responsible for the quality of a teacher’s work, balanced against their own individual accountability.

Are there lessons that we can learn from the American debate, that could ultimately enable us to produce a better quality education system that delivers high standards consistently?

Teacher Accountability & Performance

Here’s a follow up to some earlier articles I’ve shared on this blog around the issues of assessing teachers’ performance and how to create school climates and culture that promote excellence in teaching.

Earlier articles:
What Motivates Top Teachers
What Makes a Truly Great Teacher
Evaluating Teacher Performance

This is a new article that questions what is happening in the US right now on this front. There, the new approach is that teachers should be paid according to the results of their children in standardised exams. With, I think, lots of justification there’s a lot of criticism that this will see teachers simply teaching to the test and/ or will not. Cynics and those who doubt would say that, at least they would have some certainty that teachers would be teaching and some focus in their work is better than none.

This article shares an approach which is adopted and taken very seriously in Japan. I have read elsewhere of how seriously the ‘lesson study’ approach is taken. A teacher will put together a lesson which will be observed by (sometimes dozens of) his/ her peers. They will sometimes be the very best and most reputed teachers of that subject from all over the city, not just the observed teacher’s own school. After the lesson has been observed it is debated and discussed in great detail.

The article acknowledges that to introduce such an approach in American schools would require a fairly significant culture change and similar would be the case in India. Teachers would have to be willing to open up their work to expose it to the critique of their peers . They would need to be comfortable with sharing frank feedback with peers in a spirit of professional growth. They would also need to be willing to focus upon school-wide quality of teaching, looking beyond their own individual perspective.

What could make this attractive to teachers is that if the desire is to be for accountability then this is far more attractive and less intimidating than the alternatives.

%d bloggers like this: