Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Assessments, Problem Solving, Questions for you!

In other news, this morning I had a math department meeting. We talked about the newest aspect of our DYO assessments: the Grade Level Competency Exams (GLCE). These exams are supposed to reflect the minimum a student should be able to do and still pass a class. They're about basic skills. 80% is a passing grade. (I find it really hard to make these exams with confidence. Should reading a clock be on the 9th GLCE? I want them to read a clock, sure. I recently discovered that they don't all know how, yikes. Does that mean it should become part of my 9th grade curriculum? That they shouldn't be in 10th grade without it?)

In the midst of all of this, we're trying to be more transparent about how our classes intersect, to talk about what we value, what we expect of each other and how what we teach works together. As a group, we have difficulty doing this when it's called vertical planning, but it's organic in this context. Interesting.

Then we answered the questions: Why is it useful to study math? What is the most important thing you teach?
All of us, unanimously, said problem solving and critical thinking in answer to both questions. We all were also clear that our students don't know that. They don't know that everyone in the department cares more about problem solving and thinking than anything else. Why not?
Maybe it's got something to do with the fact that we're so busy making these basic skills exams?

So I'm looking for some advice here.

1- What do your students think you think is the most important thing that you teach? What do you do to make that clear? In other words, what do your students know that you value, and how do they know it?

2- How do you all plan in a way that makes your big values transparent?

3- How do you assess problem solving and critical thinking?

4- Is it ever useful (and if so how and how much) to assess straight up skills without problem solving or critical thinking?

1 comment:

  1. Some random thoughts on the topic:

    Skills and facts are good. You can't think critically if you don't have anything to think critically about.

    Math is important not only because of critical thinking, but because it's a gateway to learning other things (most obviously science).

    Students need facts and skills. Students need to practice thinking critically about ideas that are at the right level (not too easy, not too hard). Skills and facts are easy to asses. Critical thinking takes practice to assess (knowing what problems are at the right level to expect students to do takes experience and practice). Some assessments should be on skills and some on problem solving. Do what you can do--don't waste time feeling guilty about what you can't fit in. Not all assessments have to be brilliant.

    One criteria for minimum skills is: those skills that will sink a student in the next class if the student doesn't have them.