I wanted to share with you a story I heard the other day which frightened me greatly. Surely such a travesty of academic injustice is pure fiction and could never happen, yet I feel we should all be made aware in that these atrocities are rumored to be occurring around the country and we need to take precautions against them.
I recently heard through the grapevine that a teacher - one whom I greatly respect - was having a difficult time getting students to complete the study guide for an upcoming test. In response, he’s rumored to have opted to “give” completion points to students. Simply “doing” the study guide would yield them full credit, whether answers were correct or not.
First of all, let’s discuss the merits of “study guides”. It’s quite a loose term and one that could encompass countless different types of assignments and activities. If these are activities designed to help students summarize the learning they’ve done in preparation for an upcoming summative assessment, then I’m all for them. Many students struggle to synthesize their various assignments and acts of learning. Likewise, many students fail to make the connection between the daily work they do and the summative assessments that follow. So an activity designed to help make these connections in an organized manner would be fantastic. For example, perhaps students were given a list of assignments they’d completed and asked to create an outline detailing the most important lessons and key terms learned from each objective. Then, after they’d completed the outline, perhaps students were asked to predict questions they thought might appear on a summative test, based on the key terms and lessons they’d taken away from their assignments. This would be top notch.
Or perhaps students were given an opportunity to “create their own study guide” with suggested activity choices to help them summarize certain key terms and concepts. A list of assignment choices for each key concept with each of the choices designed to be simple and easily reviewable when put together in the form of a “study guide”. Another fantastic option.
Yet, I’m betting neither was the case. More likely, it was a “practice test” with a variety of multiple choice, matching and constructive response type questions. Some of which would appear on the test, either identically or in another form, others would not. For shame. If you’re going to give such an assignment, why bother doing all of the assignments and activities you had prior to this? Why should I bother taking notes over a class lecture when I’m going to be handed a study guide outlining everything I need to know? Providing such a document discredits all the work done up to that point, rather than enhancing it. A great study guide should help students see the value in what they’ve done, not feel like they’re starting something new.
I once knew a college sophomore who studied chemistry by writing formulas on the windows to the dormitory, organized by all sorts of various methods. I knew others who went over class notes and created flashcards before tests over key terms from their class lectures. I had study groups where we reviewed the reading and asked ourselves questions we thought the professor might ask. We looked for trends in what the professor seemed to consider important. I was rarely, if ever, handed a practice test and told “this is what will be on the test”. If we want to prepare kids for “college and career readiness” teaching them to develop their own study guide is of the utmost importance. They should be reflecting on what they’ve done, predicting and preparing for the future - important life skills. Not jumping through a flaming hoop of irrelevance.
Which brings me to my next point - the one that bothers me the most. At the end of the term, the points given for the study guide will be added together with the points earned on the test (along with a lot of other assignments, I’m sure). These points will determine a final grade, which will be used to make decisions about whether a student passes a class, is admitted to a college, is placed into an intervention or an enrichment, etc. Yet - when we look at that final grade, how much of it reflects genuine course learning? The gradebook has become distorted...it’s a composite score representing student compliance, not student understanding of course content.
The teacher above might tell me “Yes, but it’s a very small amount of points, whereas the test is much larger.” Great. So if the student passes the course with a 61%, did those points matter? If the amount is so trivial, why give them at all? “Because if I don’t, the students don’t do the study guide!” Then they clearly don’t see the value in the study guide. Perhaps the study guide is not very valuable to them. A better course of action might be to spend some time looking at a failed test with a struggling student and pointing out how the study guide might have helped them prepare for the test. Help them learn and grow from the mistake. THIS is what teaches responsibility and maturity, as opposed to merely coercing cooperation. Help them to make the connections between preparation and success….show them examples of completed study guides and high scores, incomplete study guides and poor scores. If they still won’t complete it, perhaps offer students an opportunity to retake the test IF they complete the study guide first. Corrective action yields additional attempts at learning.
Adding bonus points or completion points doesn’t put heal what ails the student...it merely puts a Band-Aid on the problem. It’s a painkiller that distorts the pain in a manner that makes it so the student doesn’t know they’re failing, and upon looking at a final grade a teacher doesn’t either! It masks the symptoms of student failure.
High quality study guides like the ones described above help students make the connections between the work they’ve done and the assessments they’ll face. They should reward students by helping them organize learning and see potential deficits, directing them where further preparation might be necessary. Academic credit should be given when students have demonstrated academic knowledge, not as a means of controlling student behavior. If we want to prepare students for colleges and careers, they’ll need to be be confident, independent learners capable of determining their own strengths, their own weaknesses, and charting their own course towards improvements. This sort of capability requires organization and a belief in ones own ability to learn. These two traits are barricaded beyond an old door, rusted shut by years of destructive grading practices and seemingly irrelevant assignments. Small tasks, teacher feedback and reflection upon the process are the keys to unlocking this door.
Fortunately, this is a work of pure fiction.
Good luck on your quests to focus on learning fellow Edunators. As always, if there is anything I can do for you, your students or your school districts please let me know.
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