Every project contains roadblocks and dilemmas that parallel it. Roadblocks are minor issues that arise that require immediate addressing to continue the project as planned. I have hit a few roadblocks. Dilemmas are more of overarching theme that coincides with a project. Addressing a dilemma requires more than a knee-jerk reaction, but rather a deep thought as to how the course of the project is to proceed. Two dilemmas which I see within my ImagineIT project relate to curriculum and assessment.
Curriculum has presented a dilemma for a few reasons. I teach four junior and one freshman class. I have been told by administration that the juniors will be taking a school-sponsored ACT test this year but no one knows which standardized assessment they will take for the state. Because of this, the administration said I do not need to teach any of the “new math” to the juniors that I planned to implement because the school has seen some success with a traditional standards-based curriculum. During this process, I have begun to understand the disservice I have been doing for my students. It is a disservice to teach them a curriculum that does not contain a focus on standardized assessment preparation. My juniors will be taking ACT, SAT, and the COMPASS college entrance exams in the near future. However, it is an extreme disservice to teach students math while only focusing on the operational components. Math is a search for the patterns and structures in the world around us. Math seeks to understand the beauty in our world. By not exposing students to this, I have been cutting them off of the most interesting part of the discipline.
Assessment is another dilemma which has presented itself. This year I will have to figure out how to work within the system which I work. After two weeks of instruction our school was handed a mandate from network administrators that we must have common categories and weights in gradebook within our department. In the past we have been able to guide our own grading so that we could emphasize what we valued. We have now established these and I will have to learn to work within these categories to insure that projects are given proper weight.
However, assessment is a larger personal dilemma for me. I have begun to realize that the less I focus on grades the more students will learn. Projects that I assign will take on an assessment grade but I hope to grade them for completion and participation rather than based on some arbitrary rubric about how nice they look. In the past, I have focused grades on tests because I valued what students knew and were able to do. I still value this, but no two students know the same thing and are able to do the same thing in the same way. My job is to motivate them to learn more and go deeper into the content. If students are actively engaged and interacting with the project material, learning will take place. It seems to me that less that I am nitpicking students to present their work and learn in a particular way, the more likely they are to learn.
This presents a problem because students and all stakeholders have been wired to focus on grades. I am certain that I will be fielding questions from parents, administrators, and students about my standards in grading if a class of students all earn full credit for completing a major project rather than each are given an individual grades based on the work they produced. Of course, if students are not actively participating in a project, they cannot earn full credit for it. However, that presents another issue how that can be assessed. “What makes a child gifted and talented may not always be good grades in school, but a different way of looking at the world and learning.”--Chuck Grassley