Thursday, August 22, 2013

When I grow up... I want to be like mommy!

Take a look at the picture. What do you think this little girl child drew?

I don't know about you, but it looks to me like this picture has a mom dancing on a stage around a pole while people watch and offer cash -- and the caption says "When Grow up... I want to be like mommy!"

This is either very funny or very tragic.

I came across this picture on-line some time ago and the story goes that the child handed this in to her teacher, and when the picture came home, the mother felt the need to clarify via a letter:
Dear Mrs. Jones,
I wish to clarify that I am not now, nor have I ever been, an exotic dancer.
I work at Home Depot and I told my daughter how hectic it was last week before the blizzard hit. I told her we sold out out every single shovel we had, and then I found one more in the back room, and that several people were fighting over who would get it. Her picture doesn't show me dancing around a pole. It's supposed to depict me selling the last snow shovel we had at Home Depot.
So where am I going with this?

Learning is messy. Real learning is magnificently messy. This is true when adults are learning and ├╝ber true when children are learning. Anyone who has spent ten seconds with children knows they are wonderfully weird. I wasn't there when the mother saw this drawing, but her letter makes it clear that she could see how the daughter's drawing could send, at the very least, mixed messages about how she pays the bills. In fact, I bet the mother had to actually sit down beside her daughter and take the time to engage her in a two-way conversation in order to gain insight into her thinking behind the drawing.

The latin the root for 'assessment' is assidere which means "to sit beside". This is why the best teachers know that assessment is not a spreadsheet -- it's a conversation between the teacher and the student.

Here's my point:

Without taking the time and effort to actively engage the student in a conversation, we might all assume the mother is an exotic dancer. Without talking with the student, we might (wrongly) assume to know what is really going on.

Too many of us think we understand what a grade such as a B- or 67% means, but that's not really true -- we are just used to them. Grades are at best a primitive form of feedback that leads many of us to assume that we know what is going on.

Too many of us have come to depend on the conveniences of grading; after all, grading can make assessment suspiciously easy -- which can lead to some less than desirable consequences.

I tell my students all the time that when we assume, we make an ASS out of U and ME. When we skip personally interacting with children and assess them via reductionist tools such as testsandgrades, we sacrifice validity and reliability for efficiency. When we try and reduce learning to a grade, we conceal far more than we ever reveal.

There is no substitute for what a teacher or parent observes while working with students while they are still learning. And if teachers and parents want to know if students are learning, we have to actively engage children in conversations that take a lot of time and effort.

I stopped grading my students, but I assess them every single day.

For more on abolishing grading, check out these posts:

The case against grades

I want to abolish grading but where do I start?

Grading without Grading

My de-grading philosophy Q & A

And remember, friends don't let friends grade. Join the Grading Moratorium today!

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