Monday, March 17, 2014

Knotty Questions

Skip over to Two Writing Teachers to serve up your
own Slice of Life or to help yourself to seconds. 

Do your learning goals match a scale you use to rate or measure students' understanding? Can you have more than one learning goal a day or do we learn one discrete byte at a time? Could a learning goals carry you through an entire year? How long does it take a student to analyze how a character develops a theme or sets a tone? Is analyzing character the first step there? How many steps are there in that equation?

Are you required to use scales (read rubric if that language is better) to assess students' understandings of learning goals? What types of formative assessments are daily specials in your classroom and which ones appear on the regular menu?

How do you assess what your students know and are able to do? Is what assess at the start of a unit different from what you would assess in the middle or at the end? During a lesson do you  walk around? Do you listen in? Do you record conversations? Do you have a hive of inter-dependent digital documents tagged and organized in Evernote binders by student name or class period? Do you keep anecdotal records in a  journal, on post its or the random napkin, paper towel, Kleenex, open hand space?

 What do your students know? How do you know? Who says? What are your students able to do? How do you know? Who says? Do you have evidence of that?

Image from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation
Do you pre-test and then post test? Will a set of five multiple-choice questions tell if you a student has independent? How do students tell you what they know before you begin a unit of instruction? Or do you just start everyone at the same place?
mastered a standard? Are those multiple choice questions text-dependent or text-

Do you ask students about content, theme or skills before you start a unit? Is a theme in an English class more important than a set of skills? Can you  teach skills without some sort of themed set of texts? What does research say about the brain and connections? What if we just read a variety of short texts every week and practiced the same set of skills? Is that the same thing as connecting texts and ideas over time? Which matters most?

How much depends on the society we envision or the status quo we keep?


  1. This is a post that so many educators can relate to. These questions are ones that teachers struggle with on a daily basis. I love the cartoon you included. Learning does not fit into some nice neat little box. It is messy!

  2. Sigh... The big question is is anyone able to do EVERYTHING that is expected of teachers? I am sure my students learned something today it just may not be what I had planned for them to.

  3. WOW! I'm overwhelmed & impressed & tired from all of these questions! They are good questions. There are a lot of them!! I think it perfectly illustrates why it's so hard being an English teacher. Thank you for challenging me and making me think. This is one of those posts that will stay with me!

  4. So many overwhelming. And more and more the answer I am told is that all "data" has to come from a multiple choice "cold assessment" in order to be valid. Those conversations, those journals, those jotted notes no longer have value to anyone but me, but I keep them up because I know their worth and they help me know my students.

  5. Yikes! This is kind of stressing me out, although I'm sure that's not what you meant! :-) I wish everyone who doesn't teach could read this... Also, I love how you showed how different teachers have different styles (Evernote, hand-written, organized or not...) but there's not necessarily a "right" or wrong way.

  6. Oh my gosh, here comes that familiar headache. But that cartoon is perfect.

  7. Ugh. I developed the type of headache I get at staff meetings just reading those questions. After a while, it all sounds like gobbledygook to me. So sad that this is where we are heading!

  8. Teaching is are reading and writing. Any assessment only shows part of what was visibly going on in one person's mind with a given text or text set at a given moment on a given day. Even then, observations are subjective. When trying to assessed objectively, you run into the array of problem that occur with any multiple choice text... ranging from question validity to random answering. Someday, somehow politicians and the big money must admit that testing a human mind is never going to prove what anyone really knows. It is like healthcare without any way to see inside the patient and diagnosed based on only what they tell you... or what a statistic says.