I have always wondered why learning stops at the end of a unit. Let me be more specific. When following a framework or guide, we group strands into timeframes. For example, three weeks will be spent on probability in math or this month we are writing narratives. Where I really struggle with this is early on in a year or term. That first strand or unit.
As I am getting to know students in September, it is imperative to start curriculum immediately. We have a lot to cover in ten months. As students are adjusting to new routines and people, they are expected to demonstrate an understanding of concepts from the get go on that first strand – and then never again. Let me explain.
I teach elementary school. Grade 7 & 8 to be exact. We don’t have many tests and we never have final exams. The reality is any marks given to students in that first strand will stay for the term one report card. No opportunity to re-visit. Strand is over, we have moved on – this is what you got – and it is only September.
The question I have is: Why can’t “marks” always be upgradeable? My good buddy Jon Orr (@) discusses his ideologies at the secondary panel here: http://mrorr-isageek.com/?p=3423. I want to encourage learning without interruptions and to re-visit concepts after that final exam. After all, exams and marks create fear. Fear doesn’t create out of the box thinkers or problem solvers. Fear creates a prescribed notion as to what students are expected to demonstrate to get the grade. Fear makes students “play school”.
On the contrary, I love frameworks. They provide a rough guide for new teachers (and experienced ones) to set mental targets and goals. Keep the ship on target, if you will. Stay the course. The reality is this chunked approach to learning doesn’t imply room for upgrades. In a ten month school year, students should be able to demonstrate their understanding of concepts the entire time, not just during those units. I have never read a framework that says to stop assessing a strand or unit at it’s conclusion, we tend to make that interpretation as teachers.
My second issue with frameworks, units and guides is the narrow focused learning. I understand some units of Science are completely independent of each other, but what about math? Why do we study probability – and only probability – for those three weeks? What if we taught students the rules for adding and subtracting fractions & BEDMAS during a probability strand instead of in isolation?
Mastery of skill often takes longer than a two week unit, and that is OK. As we get closer to June, I will revisit concepts and continue making observations and having conversations with students providing them opportunities to close any gaps from any strand or unit from the entire term.