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“Because” is not an Answer: Project 180, Day 124

Yesterday I handed back the kids’ sentence assessments. There were only six items on the assessment. For each completed item they had to indicate their confidence level. I then assessed each item, providing a performance score. After getting the assessments back, I asked the kids to find their average confidence and performance scores, which they had to write at the top of their papers. I do this because I want them to see the connection between confidence and performance, and sometimes what they discover is a “disconnection.” For some kids there was an equal match 3/3. For many, there was an imbalance between the two, on either side. That done, we then started talking about learning.

In the 180 classroom, it isn’t assessment¬†of learning; it is assessment for learning. Small words, big differences. The latter does not present assessments as the end of learning; it presents assessments as the continuation of learning. For this, “the continuity of learning” has two phases: whole class and individual. For the whole-class phase, I use what I learned from my general observations while assessing students’ work. I look for error trends and misconceptions that are made by multiple kids. For this particular assessment, I found an opportunity to address “explanation.” When the kids completed each test item, they had to explain their answers. For example, they had to write a simple sentence. Then they had to “Explain why this is a simple sentence.” For our learning yesterday, we focused on the word explain. On the front board, I had written the following.

The ocean is blue.

Explain why this is a simple sentence. (Below I offered three forms of responses I had gotten from students).

  • IC

  • Has a subject and a predicate

  • Has a subject, predicate, and it is a complete thought

l asked the kids to analyze the explanations and identify the best answer. Of course, we landed on the third one, but it did not represent what I encountered the test. I mostly encountered the first two. Now, to be fair, the kids’ answers weren’t necessarily wrong, but they weren’t necessarily right either, and that’s why they required, as the prompt demanded, explanation. In the second offered explanation, while it is true that a sentence requires a subject and predicate, it does not prove that something is a complete sentence (independent clause) because the same is true for a dependent clause, which is not a complete sentence. I asked the kids to think about their own demands for explanations in their own lives. I asked them to think about when their parents tell them no and they ask why. And I then ask them, if the explanation is “because,” how readily they accept that as a good reason for why. I direct them to the first answer, telling them that it is a “because” answer. And just as it is insufficient in their lives, it is insufficient here. They catch on pretty quickly.

For the individual phase, I asked the kids to complete corrections for every item on which they scored below a 3. For each of these items, they had to provide two correct examples and a full explanation. For many, they realized they had made simple or lazy errors and the fix was quick. For others, it was not a quick fill of the gaps. It was a major reboot, a major refocus. Some of them were sent back to the drawing board more than once as I forced them to use the resources at hand until they got it right. Frustrating? Yes. But I monitored their frustration levels, stepping in when I needed to, helping them find their ways, reminding them that this was simply part of the learning, the necessary practice to advance and grow. In the end, I think that’s what it’s about, really. Life is just an endless practice session. We live. We learn.

Happy Thursday, all.

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