Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Should Teachers Return Graded Tests?
by Dr. Denise Pope, Challenge Success Co-Founder

Jay Mathews, education writer for The Washington Post, wrote a recent column about teachers who refused to give students back their graded tests. Some of these tests were the standardized tests that the states or districts re-use each year, and the teachers were worried about kids cheating -- sharing questions and answers with next year’s students. But some of the tests that remained under lock and key were end-of-unit tests and midterms. Jay reported that many parents and educators thought this policy was unfair. Most of the learning that takes place after a student takes a test happens precisely when that student has a chance to see what she got wrong and learn from her mistakes. This doesn't necessarily happen in the 45 minutes during class time when the tests are passed back briefly and then recollected. Sometimes a student needs to grapple with the problem, go home and think about it, and use the test to help study for future exams and assessments.

I understand how difficult it is to make a great test. It can take hours and hours of a teacher's time. But if the end goal is for all students to learn, then we must find a way to allow kids to see their mistakes and correct them. At Challenge Success we help teachers learn to use multiple forms of assessment. Sometimes we suggest that students play a role in constructing their own test questions or essay topics. Often we urge educators to consider project-based assessments which are much harder to cheat on and can be "re-used" with each new group of students. We also urge educators to allow ways for students to revise their work and to redeem themselves. We have found that when teachers allow students to take home graded tests and then turn in test corrections, the students can learn from their mistakes and eventually understand the material in depth.

We know that cheating is a problem -- especially in high school, and we sympathize with the time it takes to design effective assessments. Ultimately, however, our students will work in the "real world" where rarely (if ever?) will they be judged on the quality of their work on a timed paper and pencil exam, based on questions they don't know ahead of time, and without the ability to use any of the resources (people, internet, work notes, etc.) on which they are used to relying when doing daily tasks. If the exam is easy to copy and far removed from the kind of work folks do outside of school, then perhaps we need to design a more cheat-proof assessment that will challenge students before, during AND after they receive feedback.

Denise Pope, Ph.D., is a Senior Lecturer at the Stanford University School of Education. For the past thirteen years, she has specialized in student engagement, curriculum studies, qualitative research methods, and service learning. Dr. Pope lectures nationally on parenting techniques and pedagogical strategies to increase student health, engagement with learning, and integrity. Her book, "Doing School": How We Are Creating a Generation of Stressed Out, Materialistic, and Miseducated Students (Yale University Press, 2001) was awarded Notable Book in Education by the American School Board Journal, 2001. Dr. Pope is a 3 time recipient of the Stanford University School of Education Outstanding Teacher and Mentor Award.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

In Defense of Occasional Dullness
by Laura Pochop

We’ve hit the heart of summer, a season that conjures up sepia-toned memories for all of us grownups. Coppertone-watermelon-seed-catching-fireflies-ice-cream-truck-spotlight-tag-come-home-when-the-streetlights-come-on memories. Periodically, there’s talk of year-round school. It’s true, the current schedule was built around agrarian kids helping with the summer harvest. It’s been perpetuated by the myth of a stay-at-home mom in every house. It makes no sense educationally or economically. Still, I’m sad for the kids who’ll someday suffer through a theoretically ‘better’ schedule. Because they won’t get those magical, endless days of nothing-to-do, nowhere-to-be summer that we dreamed of all year.

Except they’re not actually getting that now. Rare is the kid these days who can look forward to even a week of ‘free’ time over the summer. Instead, they’re in sleep-away and day camps, sports and art camps, community service and Spanish camps, and even actual camping-camps. The older ones take summer school classes at Cal, study for the SAT’s, and travel to Cambodia to build village water systems. The littlest learn to swim, play drums and build complicated Lego structures.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m in awe of the Bay Area’s Cheesecake-Factory menu of high-quality summer camps, and fiercely jealous of my own offspring. Some of their top life moments have sprung from creatively designed, brilliantly executed camps.

And yet, I fight to carve out time each summer when they’re not in camp. Taken to excess, the plethora of summer camp options goads us over-parenters to duplicate the rampant overscheduling of the school year, with its oppressive Team Snap reminders, carpools and nagging. It can also feed a sense of entitlement in our kids, who come to feel deserving of constant attention, programming and cool activities delivered by hyper-enthusiastic young adults 24/7.

Sometimes what kids need most of all is the absence of adult supervision and structure. To figure out how to be alone, how to invent their own games and create their own distractions. How to be bored.

This weekend, I passed a chalk-drawn hopscotch on the sidewalk, with the one-two-one-two pattern winding slowly, continuing for almost the whole block. It ended, finally, at ‘489.’ And I felt a rush of sepia-toned connection with the child who created it. There’s no Hopscotch Camp, is there?

Laura Pochop holds an MBA from Stanford University. She currently does sell-side investment banking and owns a specialty market with her husband in the Bay Area. Laura writes a column for the Piedmont Post where she offers commentary on living in our fast-paced, competitive society and the issues of raising three kids in this sometimes crazed environment. This piece was originally published in the July 10th issue of the Piedmont Post.