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In Our Hands: Project 180, Day 119

A mistake’s meaning rests in the hands of the teacher. It becomes an embodiment of the culture he creates. As such, it can either destroy or it can build. I choose to hold the latter in front of my kids. I choose to present challenges that offer mistake-making opportunities, opportunities to prove what we know and own what we don’t. I believe ownership is the key. We can’t improve what we don’t acknowledge. But it is hard to get kids to acknowledge, much less embrace, what they have been conditioned to fear and hide. Indeed, it is a difficult situation. But, it is not an impossible situation. Kids can learn to find value in their mistakes, to discover the potential in their missteps. But we have to teach them.

Yesterday, I presented a mistake-making opportunity. A test. An assessment. A chance to perform. A chance to fail. Tests look and feel different in the 180 classroom. With no grade attached, the pressure is off, but the “let’s-be-real” meter is in full effect. The kids have a chance to show me what they can do. They also have a chance to own what they cannot. And from there, together, we have an opportunity to do something about it. Below is just a small sample of what the opportunity looked like yesterday. I’d like to point out a few key components of the approach.

Sentence Performance Task

___Assessment taken with resources

___Assessment taken without resources

Write a Compound Sentence. Circle simple subject(s). Underline simple predicate(s).

Explain why it’s a compound sentence:

Confidence(student)  3  2  1          Performance(teacher)  3  2  1

First, the kids were given an opportunity to access resources if necessary, but if they accessed them, then they had to own it by checking the “assessment taken with resources” box. The thinking behind this is my wanting the kids to be aware of their ability to perform independently. It’s okay to access resources–we do it in the “real world” all the time, but the goal is independence. And we cannot reach independence if we are not first aware of dependence. Of course, I encouraged the kids to try it independently, and many did,  but a good number used resources. Did some check the “did not use” box disingenuously? Perhaps, but I would suggest that few did. Why would they? As I reminded them, this is not a vehicle for a grade. It is a vehicle for feedback. No short-term gratification to be achieved here. No “stolen” grade to mask a lack proficiency. Just an opportunity to own their learning. Cheaters never win.

Next, the kids not only had to show me the what, but they also had to show me the why. Yes, it is important for them to produce the desired sentence, but it is equally important for them to explain why. This is a necessary measure of understanding. I want them to do. But, ultimately, I want them to understand. If one can explain, then one understands.

Finally, the kids had to indicate their confidence level by marking 3 (confident), 2 (somewhat confident), or 1 (not confident). Then, my assessment would indicate how they performed: 3 (hit the target), 2 (near miss), or 1 (far miss). How’d they do? Well, I am only through one period, but I am pleased to announce that there were lots of mistakes, lots of learning opportunities.Oh, there was a lot of success, too, and even a few “perfects” without resources, but by and large, I learned that we still have some learning to do. Could not be happier about that. Let the learning continue.

Happy Thursday, all.

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