I "change" a bit when kids have me for Calculus. Pre-Cal follows a pretty clear script: regular tests, SBG, and tons of grades. Relatively speaking I do all the work in the feedback department. Kids (most of the time) make use of my input to demonstrate improvement on future assessment attempts. Very slowly I realized that model didn't fit my intentions for Calculus.

It's AP, so in theory it'd be good to give them a proper college experience, or leave them with some skill they'll find useful as an adult. Obviously that means I lecture for 90 minutes twice a week and make them derive the product rule from first principles, right? Uh, not quite.

Towards the end of last year I put a lot of the grading burden on the students. We would take short little assessments, they'd open up the answer key and rate themselves on the A/B/Not Yet system. A majority were pretty honest with me. This year I decided to start that system from the get go. They had an assessment a few days ago, they spent 30 minutes working independently, and then 7 minutes having a discussion where they could make additions/corrections to their work with markers. They couldn't ask me any questions. I collected the papers and glanced at them very briefly just to have an idea how to focus the next day. The following class period I gave them access to the answer key, they rated themselves, and then I focused my part of the day on the topic they struggled with the most (in this case, forcing continuity in a piecewise function).

Some people would argue this is a very anti-college approach. It will discourage studying, or something. As far as grading methodologies go, it is very anti-college. Lots of feedback opportunities, abilities to discuss the test they just took in particular will make a lot of heads explode. I'm looking for two things: can the kids learn how to value learning for the sake of learning, and can they see how beneficial it is to explain something to or listen to an explanation from a peer. That last bit is the only reason I survived college, spending untold hours learning from and teaching peers in the library prior to exams.

But, but, but the GRADES! Who cares? I don't. They shouldn't either. In 8 months they need to be really good at this stuff. Their grade on September 2nd? Whatever. You do this long enough and you can find the kids who are putting the appropriate effort in and rate them appropriately. Very few are getting anything for free here.

I have this conversation with them and it throws them off. Their whole life has been nothing but achieving x out of 100 and here I am telling them to screw that noise. The tension in the room was thick when I passed out the first assessment (which they assumed was a test, but I never called it a test, did I children?).

Then I drop that "have a 7 minute discussion" bomb on them and they understand me. The conversations are FANTASTIC. The clearest positive I got last year is kids loved the instantaneous feedback they were getting by having to rate themselves. Maybe, just maybe, we can get somewhere here.

Now that they know the format, you would (rightly) argue that the discussion part is going to be a key to lots of them thinking that studying is not necessary. They can just hold out. I'm with you there. At the same time, short though the assessments may be, I'm trying to make them more demanding. Given the working pace of a teenager, 7 minutes isn't going to save anyone.

AuthorJonathan Claydon