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Insurrection is a big book about big change, and that unintentionally intimidates, scares, or dissuades some people from believing my ideas and work translate to immediate classroom application. I owe you explicit elucidation when I say that if you read it through, and get it, you can hit the ground running today with revolutionized ideas.
Let’s take assessment as an example.
We complain a lot about grading, both the amount of grading we have to do and the way we have to report grading. So what does the Insurrection-ist (or the Seditionist if you’re a fan of the videos I do with Rob Furman, or whatever other revolutionary badge of honor you prefer) do to make that better?
Stop grading things that aren’t ready to be graded.
When you give an assignment, it should be designed in a way that, no matter how big or small, your individual students are showing you what they really understand and can do with the unique knowledge and understanding they’ve developed. A multiple-choice quiz doesn’t do that, because it shows no significant comprehension or deep critical thinking about the subject, and show can’t really tell you anything other than a superficial snapshot.
Why bother with superficial fluff? Dump the quiz. Dump the multiple choice test. Throw ‘em out. Don’t waste time with Scantrons and that factory-model nonsense. (It’s literally a machine-grader. How much more industrial can you get?) Instead, offer students a genuine opportunity to show unique, individual skill mastery.
“But wait,” you might be saying, “I use multiple-choice or fill-in-the-blank quizzes and such because they’re quick and easy. I thought you said you were going to lessen my work load?”
Even if you did use that method, just let kids opt out if they’re not ready to demonstrate mastery. We’ve all done this: “Did you do your homework?” “Yeah!” “Did you really?” “Well, no…” “So are you going to do well on the test today?” “Well, no…”
Why bother putting the kid through that, and while we’re at it, why bother grading it? If you both know it’s not a good evaluation, don’t grade it. In fact, by moving to an entirely voluntary, entirely un-coerced “hand it in when it’s ready” system of evaluation, you’ll be stunned by the amount of time you’ll save from having to chug through substandard materials.
What do you do with the kids who aren’t ready to hand anything in yet? Well, there are several options. The instinct of the traditionalist will be to give that kid a zero, because no skill mastery was demonstrated. While this may make strict mathematical sense, for me, I’m more interested in no grade at all: Why penalize a kid when we don’t really know what the situation is yet? There are a few variations on this theme that come to mind for me. One that stood out as I drove here was the idea of saying “these assignments and assessments need to be turned in by the end of this quarter,” and doing that for each quarter. At the end of quarter one, missing assignments go unpenalized: you evaluate what’s handed in, and the grade is calculated exclusively on those grades, with the other assignments being unweighted and unpenalized. At the end of quarter two, that “placeholder” grade becomes a 75%: you have a baseline in your score, but your being “behind” is starting to creep in, as an incentive to ensure that the prerequisite skill mastery items are being addressed. A kid has a lot of latitude here to still get a great grade, but has the flexibility not to freak out about things yet. Next quarter, 50, next quarter 25, and finally at the end, no skill mastery yields no credit.
Personally, I wouldn’t use this system, as I don’t believe in penalizing students for time-based phenomena: The only truly required mastery level benchmarks are, usually, at the End of Course (EOC), or in some jurisdictions or for some classes, at the Semester. For me, I say no penalty for having a brain that procrastinates and does everything at the last minute. That is a legitimate form of time management. There are innumerable articles floating around the literature right now saying that some procrastinators are brilliant, have a ton of skill mastery, and are fully capable in ways their more incremental classmates might not be.
Is it our right, is it our place, to punish certain kind of thinkers? I maintain that it is not, and if you’ve read Insurrection, you know this is one of the center-most themes and core pillars of my revolutionary proposal. (If you haven’t read Insurrection, but you agree that nobody’s thinking style is innately “better” or “worse” than another, you should definitely pick it up and power through to the midway point, where these themes really start to pick up!)
However, while it might not be my personal cup of tea, do I think that a teacher who implements such an incremental system is doing far, far better than those who aren’t?
Yes, I do.
Not only that, but I believe you could (if you were so inclined) cite some significant research to back up your position that there may indeed be justification for building such time management scaffolding into your curriculum and assessment methods, because the vast majority of students regardless of thinking style, aptitude, individual preference, or future plans, will be living in America after they graduate, and in America, there is a case to be made that executive function skills necessary in many segments of our society may benefit from such scaffolding. (See, I can be on your team on this!)
Do I want you to understand the etiology of the socioeconomic and psychosocial structural violence that has coopted our schools for two centuries? Yes, I do. But I also want you to help your individual kids, right now, and Insurrection will equip you not only with future-proof pedagogy, philosophy, and history, but with core principles that you can use right now in your classroom.
I’m going to continue to try to outline these Praxis in Practice skills throughout 2016, as I did in the latter half of 2015, as I genuinely believe that the real revolutionaries are already among us, the teachers “on the ground,” doing the work in our classrooms, for each one of our kids. I believe in you, and I’m here to help.