Thursday, February 26, 2015

Skill Building, Formative Assessments & LeBron James

Should everything a student does in class be graded?  Or, as students typically say, "does this count?"

Throughout most of my career, the answer was a resounding YES.  I thought that if it was something that I deemed important enough to assign, then into the gradebook it went. 

That all changed with mastery learning.  In the new system, any formative assessments (which I term "Skill Building Tasks" to students) are not officially scored or entered into our grading system.  In fact, they are not always required in the first place!

When explaining this to students, I refer back to my years coaching basketball.  These formative assessments are like practice for the big game.  We work on improving specific skills, particularly ones that we are weak at, in order to perform well during the big game. In this case, the "game" is equivalent to the summative assessment for each standard (summative assessments are graded on a mastery-learning scale). 

Now back to the idea of not having students complete all of the formative assessments.  My point here is that if you can prove mastery on the summative assessment without practicing with any of the skill building tasks, great!  Why should I waste your time?  

LeBron knows how to dribble...
If LeBron James had to prove mastery of dribbling a ball down the court, I don't think he would need weeks of ball handling drills to work his way up to the summative assessment. 

On the other hand, we all have students who think that they are the LeBron James of a particular skill, but are instead closer to rec league role player (no offense to those who were.)  It's ok, many of us overestimate our ability to do things, and so do our students.  

So what happens when a student attempts the summative assessment without practicing with the formatives and does not prove proficient? Simple: they will have to double back and attempt these skill building assignments with some redirection and instruction. When they are ready, they will tackle the summative assessment once (or twice) more.

Below is a graph I put together (linked here) that helps me organize which resources and formative assessments will help my students develop proficiency in each particular skill (Columns 3&4 from left).  The second image is a screenshot of what the "Skill Building Tasks" look like to students in our LMS.  More reflection on the role of formative assessments and their role in a mastery learning environment to come...  In the meantime, post any comments or questions below!

Resources & Formative Assessments Included in Unit Outline
Skill Building Tasks in our LMS