A few years ago I had the opportunity to listen to Damian Cooper (expert on assessment and evaluation here in Ontario). He shared with us an analogy talking to us about the Olympic athletes that had just competed in Sochi. He asked us to think specifically about the Olympic Ice Skaters…
He asked us, who we thought made the biggest difference in the skaters’ careers: The scoring judges or their coaches?
Think about this for a second… An ice skater trying to become the best at their sport has many influences on their life… But who makes the biggest difference? The scoring judges along the way, or their coaches? Or is it a mix of both???
Damian told us something like this:
The scoring judge tells the skater how well they did… However, the skater already knows if they did well or not. The scoring judge just CONFIRMS if they did well or not. In fact, many skaters might be turned off of skating because of low scores! The scoring judge is about COMPETITION. Being accurate about the right score is their goal.
On the other hand, the coach’s role is only to help the skater improve. They watch, give feedback, ask them to repeat necessary steps… The coach knows exactly what you are good at, and where you need help. They know what to say when you do well, and how to get you to pick yourself up. Their goal is for you to become the very best you can be! They want you to succeed!
In the everyday busyness of teaching, I think we often confuse the terms “assessment” with “evaluation” Evaluating is about marking, levelling, grading… While the word assessment comes from the Latin “Assidere” which means “to sit beside”. Assessment is kind of like learning about our students’ thinking processes, seeing how deeply they understand something… These two things, while related, are very different processes!
I have shared this analogy with a number of teachers. While most agree with the premise, many of us recognize that our job requires us to be the scoring judges… and while I understand the reality of our roles and responsibilities as teachers, I believe that if we want to make a difference, we need to be focusing on the right things. Take a look at Marian Small’s explanation of this below. I wonder if the focus in our schools is on the “big” stuff, or the “little” stuff? Take a look:
Thinking again to Damian’s analogy of the ice skaters, I can’t help but think about one issue that wasn’t discussed. We talked about what made the best skaters, even better, but I often spend much of my thoughts with those who struggle. Most of our classrooms have a mix of students who are motivated to do well, and those who either don’t believe they can be successful, or don’t care if they are achieving.
If we focus our attention on scoring, rating, judging… basically providing tasks and then marking them… I believe we will likely be sending our struggling students messages that math isn’t for them. On the other hand, if we focus on providing experiences where our students can learn, and we can observe them as they learn, then use our assessments to provide feedback or know which experiences we need to do next, we will send messages to our students that we will all improve.
Hopefully this sounds a lot like the Growth Mindset messages you have been hearing about!
Take a quick look at the video above where Jo Boaler shows us the results of a study comparing marks vs feedback vs marks & feedback.
So, how do you provide your students with the feedback they need to learn and grow?
How do you provide opportunities for your students to try things, to explore, make sense of things in an environment that is about learning, not performing?
What does it mean for you to provide feedback? Is it only written?
How do you use these learning opportunities to provide feedback on your own teaching?
As always, I try to ask a few questions to help us reflect on our own beliefs. Hopefully we can continue the conversation here or on Twitter.