This year has been a transformative year for me. Maybe it’s because it’s my 4th year in a lab, maybe it’s because of my improved school environment or maybe it’s because I’ve hit that point in my career where I can really begin to hone my craft.

One of my main focuses this year (as many of my readers may have already guessed) has been assessment. I have been discovering ways to know if my students ‘get it.’ Sometimes, even after what I think is a great lesson, I discover that they don’t.

photo courtesy of annais on Flickr

The great thing? I actually know that they don’t get it. Through developing methods for quick checks for understanding and by narrowing down my focus and learning goals for each 45 minute period I have been able to ensure that my students have mastered the skill or concept required to move them to the next part of a project or to push them to apply the skill to a new situation.

I walk methodically to each student during the class period checking off whether a student has mastered the skill I want them to have by the end of the period (i.e. “Show me how to use the paintbrush tool.” or “What do you click if you want to leave this website and go to a different one?”)  In this way, I can quickly pick up who ‘gets it’ and who doesn’t. I have found this vital to ensuring that everyone is ready to move on and that I address any misconceptions before applying these skills to a new situation.

The biggest realization for me has been the acceptance that when my students fail it’s usually a direct result of something I have or haven’t done.

This fact has been proven to me a few times this year as I changed my approach or my method or allowed my students to revise projects based around feedback.  I have watched my students succeed and produce better and better projects and I smile inwardly as I hear them tell each other how to move files around and teach each other how to find applications with the Spotlight.

It’s not all roses. I have stumbled and there have been lessons that failed. When this happens and my students obviously didn’t get it or are not ready to move on, I have to take a step back and assess what they need to be prepared for the task or tasks ahead.

Today I told my 4th graders, “If you fail, that means that there’s something that I didn’t do right. If you fail, that means I failed.”

It’s a bold statement, but I’m starting to think that it’s true.

15 Thoughts on “When You Fail, I Fail”

  • The key word in the 4th paragraph is methodical. I wish I had that talent. The pressure of 20 kids and the desire to be all things for all people really inhibits my ability to be methodical. After 11 years of teaching – I have not learned that ability to slow the class down.

    As far as the main sentiment of the blog, I feel the same way.

    Keep up the great work.

    Feel free to offer a blog on being methodical.

  • Brad,

    My method is to have a clipboard with a spreadsheet with each student's name on it. There are columns on the sheet that I label with a skill and a date. My students have assigned seats in the lab, so I methodically move from student to student, marking off on my spreadsheet whether the skill is an applied one (A), a developing one (D) or an introductory one (I). Sadly, I have to give students grades on these kinds of things, so I give the As 20 points, and I award points to the others depending on what kind of mastery is expected of the skill (i.e. if the the students are not expected to have mastered the skill, then a student who shows that they are at the developing level would also get 20 points).

    It's not perfect by any means, but it's a start!

  • I understand the sentiment, but I disagree with the message. There are a whole host of factors that play into a student's understanding of the material. One of which is the student's innate ability to grasp the subject matter. As always, I respect you on a mass kind of level. Your students are more than lucky to have you as their teacher. I hope that you are OK with knowing that there is only so much you can do as a teacher and knowing that you have done all that you will hopefully enough for you. But, at the end of day, not you or any other educator cannot expect that 100% of their students will understand the material.

  • Will,

    I'm so glad that you shared your thoughts. I know that success requires effort and work on the part of my students. It's a two-way street. So far, nearly all of my students apply themselves to our projects and the task at hand, which is why I make the statement that I do. That said, there are students that 'goof off.' However, if I am methodically checking in with all of my students, I find that this happens less and less, or at least I can 'nip it in the bud.'

    It is important to remember that 100% mastery is a high expectation. Without remembering that, we risk burnout.

    Thanks again for that reality check 🙂

  • I think this is a great post. It is exactly the way I felt when I was teaching 5th grade and gave tests regularly. When my students didn't do well on a math trest, I felt that i had not taught them well enough for them to have success. That's when I put line plots to good use! I would see which questions my students got wrong and then see if there was a pattern so I could determine what I needed to reteach. The formative as summative assessments of the students, I felt, were assessments of me.
    So, that being said, does this change how you feel about test results being used to determine the quality of a teacher?

  • I absolutely think you are right on here. As teachers we spend a lot of time focusing on our teaching, and not enough on our student's learning. By honestly (and authentically) assessing and determining how much is learning we really get a measure of how effectively we have taught. If students don't learn, we haven't taught.

  • In England, this is called Assessment for Learning. Your focus is insuring a children's progression rather than just assessing to place in a grade. It is interesting to me that you work in a charter school and feel the environment is so much better. I am actually finding just the opposite. I gave 14 reported summative assessments in the first 6 weeks and just finished a series of 6 in the last 4. I wonder if technology is the only place that this type of assessment is practical 🙁 I'm truly missing being able to focus on the learning and progression rather than focusing on given, grading and submitting an assessment. You are so luck!

  • I don't give tests in technology class (I am mostly PBL), but I have given a few short quizzes to see if students have a basic understanding of some concepts I want to them to know. The problem with tests/quizzes is that many of them are poorly constructed. They also cannot be used in isolation since formative assessments might show that a student has mastered a concept, but they miss the question on the test.

    A test is only one way to show whether a student understands/knows something. Most of what I teach is not really testable since it involves creating or showing steps of how to do a task.

    I think there needs to be a healthy balance of assessments. Tests alone cannot show the quality of a teacher.

  • I am lucky in more than one way since I don't have reading levels and benchmark tests, etc… When I speak of the environment, I mean the tone of the school. My former school had numerous fights daily, students running around the building unsupervised, students cursing out administrators, etc…. A very poor environment for successful teaching and learning. I was often pulled to cover classes with some of my regular classes being canceled so I could do so. This caused a lot of issues with continuity.

    As for assessment, I am still forced to quantify the seemingly unquantifiable to fill up my online gradebook with grades that is monitored weekly for input.

  • I love this post and shared it with my students. I thank you first and foremost for your transparency, this technology brings so many together and gives us all the opportunity to agree or disagree.

    In essence I agree with your post and feel PERSONALLY like a failure when a student doesn't grasp a concept. This is because at the heart of everything I do I feel I am a great teacher, much like you. I feel I relate concepts in a concrete and manageable way and that I provide enough autonomy and communicate purpose to inspire students greatness.

    Even though all that happens, there are still factors that impede student success that are beyond my control. As we wrap up this quarter I wrote on my board: You fail, I failed. We talked about this in context of our unit, our assessment, and standards-based grading. It was a great conversation.

    Thank you for this post and an opportunity to discuss this with my students.

  • How cool, Chris! What an important conversation. I wonder what grade level you teach? I wish more schools had standards-based grading. When I told my students that I don't grade behavior, they were shocked. I think I'm the first teacher they've had who hasn't!

  • Thank you for this post. I say this exact phrase to my students all the time. I do this so they will understand that I take responsibility for their learning. When it comes to performances (I teach music) I also honestly share with the students that it is not just they who are judged by their work but me as well. In terms of the recorded assessment, I use a similar mode to you and am now glad to be able to do so electronically (yea for the iPad).

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