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A couple of GT-related ideas from the world of academia have caught my attention today.
One is from media scholar Jason Mittell, a professor at Middlebury College.
Mittell just posted his first update on his experiment in using Specifications Grading in one course he is teaching this semester. https://justtv.wordpress.com/2016/03/21/first-update-on-my-specifications-grading-experiment/ His motivation isn’t really about the same ideas that drive the much-maligned Curriculum 2.0 Standards Based Report Card – he has said he simply hates grading and wants to make the grading more meaningful as a “motivation, reward, or neutral assessment,” none of which is achieved by the one-size-fits-all “P” grade that we are seeing in elementary school. Nevertheless, he raises an interesting point about how to assess work that goes beyond the specifications of the course.
So what is the difference between meeting and exceeding expectations? On my assignments, typically it’s elegance and style in writing, subtlety of analysis, originality of insight, and depth of thinking. These are not learning goals for the course, and they are not things I directly teach—obviously I value all of these elements, and try to model them in leading discussion and assigning exemplary readings, but I do not focus on such advanced abilities in this introductory course. This is the crux for me: the students who are exceeding my expectations are doing so based on what they bring to the course, rather than what they are learning from the class.
(Emphasis added.) I think this captures nicely the grading variability phenomenon we see in Standards-Based Grading in MCPS elementary programs. Teachers are being told to “differentiate” their instruction by “meeting students where they are,” but the standards they are teaching are all grade-level standards. Teachers are given insufficient guidance and/or material to teach to the students who come into the class having already mastered the grade level standards. As a predictable result, many are not actually “teaching” students anything beyond the grade level standards. In that circumstance, the only way students can earn the ES grade by “exceeding expectations” is to produce, in response to a grade-level prompt, work that reflects what they bring to the classroom from elsewhere.
This myth that advanced students can teach themselves and don’t need to be taught by teachers is quite pervasive, lasting all the way into college.
Elsewhere in academia, two professors of public policy, Todd Rogers (Harvard) and Avi Feller (UC Berkeley) are publishing a paper in Psychological Science entitled “Discouraged by Peer Excellence: Exposure to Exemplary Peer Performance Causes Quitting.”
A summary of the findings can be found here:
Reduced to its essence, the study found that average-performing students in a 5,000-student MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) who were randomly assigned to peer review the work of the highest-performing students in the class were significantly more likely to get discouraged and quit than students who were randomly assigned to work with fellow-students whose performance level was closer to their own. The students in the first group were more likely to believe that the exemplary students represented the “average” or “normal” student and to conclude that success in the course was unattainable.
Again, the focus isn’t on improving K-12 outcomes, and the authors seem more interested in the business implications of their findings. What leapt out at me, however, were the implications for the “osmosis theory” of achievement gap reduction. I’ve heard many educators suggest grouping the lowest-performing students in a cohort with the highest-performing students, on the theory that the strugglers will be inspired by the proximate example of students performing several grade levels above them. I’ve always had the gut feeling that strugglers are more likely to be discouraged by an age peer who is so far ahead. This study echoes that fear.
— Michelle Gluck, GTAMC board member, March 25, 2016