My Favourite No
It’s always nice seeing teachers find new ways to make a wrong answer a positive experience. Forever, it seems like being wrong has been this huge taboo in classrooms. The reasons students don’t participate is the fear of being wrong, when they get a test back, they check their mark and then look for all the red pen telling them what marks they lost. It makes being wrong such a horrible experience. When, as the teacher in the video shows, it’s actually quite a positive thing to be wrong.
Being wrong means that you make a mistake and you learn from it. When we read old fables or stories to our elementary, heck, even our high school (and university!) students, the story always has a message, or a moral to highlight. And, more often than not, the protagonist (or antagonist) learns this moral through making a mistake, and learning from what they did wrong, or they don’t learn from their fatal flaw, and die in some horrible fashion in a Shakespearean drama. This is because failure can tell us so much about ourselves, and so much about a topic, that is a disservice to our students to not celebrate those failures.
I’ve used this quote in another class this week, but it is applicable, so we’ll do it again. We learned this way back in the day when we watched The Magic School Bus, and Miss Frizzle told us to “take chances, make mistakes, and get messy”. We our going to make mistakes, it is inevitable, so we should embrace them and learn from them.
I was tutoring a friend of mine in Calculus a few days ago, and he brought me his last quiz to look over, because he has his midterm in a few days, and this was the only test he struggled on. And what we did was look over the questions he got wrong, identified his mistakes, and built upon why he was wrong. And that was the most useful thing he found in studying for his test. Because he found, and I do, too, that I remember my mistakes much more clearly than what I did right. And that comes from knowing why I was wrong, or why he was wrong.
Especially in math, routines are formed by students. They learn how to divide, they learn how to multiply, they learn the “basics” of math very quickly in school…and then you proceed to take fifteen million more years of math where you basically just use those same simple rules over and over and over again, getting more and more abstract, or complex as you continue. So, by the time you reach high school, you have a way of doing math, of organizing your questions, or of doing these procedures. And if a student has not been understanding or doing something correctly from the beginning, then it is extremely difficult to undo those misconceptions without understanding of what they have been doing wrong.
“My Favourite No” really lets students get that understanding of what exactly is wrong, why it is wrong, and, most importantly, what we can learn from the mistake. And that is why it is such an important tool for assessment. Students need to know how to correct their mistakes before it is too late, they need to be guided through the formative assessment and catch those errors before they are finally graded in a summative assessment.
Importance of Communicating with Parents
In chapter 9 of Making Classroom Assessment Work, there is a focus on communication. And one of the communication channels they highlight as being extremely important is the communication between parents or guardians and teachers. I think it is extremely important to have parents and guardians involved in the school, for a number of reasons.
Like it says in the chapter, parents and guardians want to be informed of their child’s learning and how well they are doing, most parents and guardians would love it if the teachers were willing to be open in communicating.
Another reason I think it is important is that parents and guardians will be hearing about how school is going if they have any communication with their child, and that communication may not always be positive. If a child is going to be going home and talking about what you are doing in the classroom, or what you are changing, they may not be happy about it at first. Students like routine, and I know a lot of people, myself included, who hate surprises. I always like seeing the rubric before I do an assignment because I don’t want to be surprised about what I’m being marked on. I like when the desk arrangements stay the same. And, if a teacher is going to shake things up, even if I get forewarning of the change, that doesn’t mean I won’t be unsure or wary for a while. Whenever I am unsure or unhappy about something in school, most often my parents are the second people to hear about it, right after my best friend.
As a teacher, you want to get ahead of that negativity, in case it will occur, because oftentimes, the students are just not sure how to feel, or just don’t know enough about the change yet to fully appreciate it, and they will come around. But if the parents and guardians hear about the change when they are being negative about it, that negativity will stick with them. So talk to them, let them know that you care and want them to be involved, and let them be introduced to a concept in a positive light.
The final reason I’ll mention that parents and guardians should be involved is the student-parent conferences mentioned in the chapter. The conferences are ways for students to talk to their family or support group in a structured way about what they are learning. The conferences are important because it promotes communication in the family, as well as helps a student focus on what it is important to let their family or support systems know. When I would go home after school and we’d eat, there was always the “how was school?” talk, and then the “what did you learn?” after. And I would always be confused about what to say. The conferences help so that students can demonstrate what they’ve learned (reading a book, solving a problem), and also give students more guided questions on what to tell their people so that they know exactly what the student is being taught. If the conferences are monitored, as they can be, they are also a way to assess a student’s understanding of a topic, but also see where their interest lies in the topic. Hearing the student orally talk about “what they learned”, means that a student is going to be more focused on what they found they really connected with, or understood the best, and you can use that when working with the student further.
Involving parents and guardians means that you are connecting the school more fully with the community surrounding and you are also letting parents know what exactly is going on in the school. Because we have those students in the school building for a very long time for the majority of the week, and often times no one really knows or is informed about what the students are doing. Showing parents and guardians that you have nothing to hide will make you more reputable, more trustworthy, and help you develop those relationships that are so desperately needed. But it is also helpful in assessment, in one way because you can use the conferences to formatively assess student learning, but also because knowing you have a dialogue with the support systems means that you need to have something to communicate to them with, and so it might encourage you to keep anecdotal records, or collect data on student achievement, encourage students to build portfolios, or add more information and weight to your comments on assignments.