Friday, March 13, 2015

What students are saying around less grades

 People have their doubts around the removal of grades.  Over the last 6 years, I have graded less and less and have been challenged many times.  Instead of me defending this movement, I have compiled a set of responses around what I do from my students.  These are not edited in any way, or were these students "prepped" into their responses around me removing grades.

First, a most recent student of mine, Michael says:

Addressing the commenters who attack Mr. Martin's approach as "coddling", "unaccountable" or "unrealistic". I am a former student of Mr. Martin's class who has received over $115,000 in academic scholarships from some of the top universities in Canada. Anyone who knows Mr. Martin can testify that he is tremendously hardworking and invested in the big picture success of his pupils. As a current high school student, I would like to share some insights into Mr. Martin's philosophy that make what he does so valuable to us. There will always be a bell curve of students in the high school system, with a minority of extremely self motivated students who will succeed in whatever environment they are placed in, and a minority of disadvantaged students who struggle because they lack the support to succeed. Neither of these groups of students should be used as an indicator of effectiveness for any teaching method. However what makes Mr. Martin's teaching philosophy so effective, is that he is able to positively motivate and support the majority of students who fall in the middle, students who are seeking a good education but may find achieving a standard of excellence extremely difficult in a conventional classroom setting. He challenges his students to strive for true understanding of the concepts taught, and does not punish them for their individual learning styles. He provides the tools and the learning environment that allow for total understanding of both basic and advanced concepts, if the student is willing to put in the necessary effort. What is so encouraging about this approach is that the majority (I would venture to say all) of his students develop a desire to excel and work hard in this classroom, regardless of their previous experiences or attitude towards math. Finally, there is nothing ambiguous about his marking system. For students to succeed on the tested outcomes, final exams and projects, they must demonstrate a complete understanding of the concepts taught. Throughout the course, they are evaluated for their understanding on a concept by concept basis, so both students and parents have a real time indication of their success in the class. Your grades are completely "quantifiable" and "real", for lack of a better expression.

Next is Karl,

Thank you Mr. Martin for teaching me to love calculus, you are the reason I chose a math major. I am in my 3rd year at Macewan with a 3.87 GPA in a program I was told as a child I could not learn. The article is good but there is so much more to say about why your students are so successful, your applicable and interesting math examples and love of the subjects and knowing the interests of each of your students are also why your classes are full.

Here is Logan,

Hi, I'm a former student of Mr. Martin's, and now a current Electrical Engineering student at the University of Calgary. Mr. Martin's teaching methods are innovative and greatly helpful, and I have yet to get as much understanding and knowledge out of a course since taking his AP calculus course, despite going into a field that should by all rights have "better" education systems in place than any high school. His reinventing of the "cognitive and empirical wheel regarding math instruction" is a great help to many of his students, despite or more accurately because of his different method of evaluating students. Because of his classes, myself and others in my situation were much more well prepared for the "REAL WORLD" of dealing with higher mathematics than many others who were taught under standard systems, as many of them were pushed through the highschool level without gaining real comprehension of what they were doing, completely contrarily to the education style of Mr. Martin. Obviously one (or even a few) data point(s) do not point to causation, but just about everyone that I have seen take Mr. Martin's classes have greatly benefited from them, much more than people taking courses with very similar learning outcomes from any teacher who follows the standard method of teaching high school math. Clearly he's doing a lot of things that are very right for those he's doing them for.

 Lastly, what Ray says around exams

Exams are “said” to represent one’s knowledge of course material, this statement is both true and false.
Exams do test what we know but misses the main idea of why the answer is so. In most of today’s classes a student can pay attention in class, do their homework and study hard and they should obtain a decent mark but does this mark really display what they know? Exams force us students to memorize what material will be on that exam and to ignore the concepts that won’t be on it. Throughout my schooling there have been countless times when I have asked a teacher “Do we need to know this for the exam? “And they have replied with “No” so my fellow classmates and I don’t worry about it. 
I have noticed that the kids who take interest in the subject want to know WHY and it’s these students that seem to obtain the most success and useful knowledge from that class.  Most courses you can memorize all the material and know what it is but not understand why it is so and how you can use it in your life. Exams limit one’s potential and quite frankly not to many students like them. 
For example the dreaded diploma examinations that are worth 50% of our mark. We put in many hours into each subject in school over 6 hours a week and then 50% of our mark is based on a 3 hour exam? This time limit puts even more stress and pressure on us students, then we are told to manage our time for this exam we have never seen and aren’t sure what to expect. Personally when going in to write my math 30 diploma I was told I’d have lots of time so I took my time on each question. The pressure got to me, as I would second guess myself on each question. Before I knew it I was way behind, panicking as I knew I was in trouble.  I ended up having to guess on 7 questions as I had run out of time, me a kid who is quite familiar with managing time. 
What I’m getting at is that the exam couldn’t accurately represent my knowledge as it had a set of rules with it and could only cover so many concepts.  I was successful all year understanding each concept feeling confident with my learning then ONE exam dictates half of my mark. It dropped my mark a sizable amount and I felt ripped off. This exam did not represent my knowledge but more so the mark I got after some unfortunate questions that got the best of me. 
Exams limit our potential. In the real world we will have access to technology, others input and potentially more time which can help us great amounts. We will have real life situations where the “why” will be more important because the “how” can easily and quickly be taught to us due to the fact we understand the concepts present. 
Value of feedback assessments? 
Contrary to exam focused classes, assessments provide us with the “why”, “how” and even gives us experience and ways to use it in our life. To create our own examples we need to know why something occurs and then how this works or occurs. When we go out and create our projects we make our own examples that relate to us and stuff we are interested in which is another aspect missed by exam focused courses. The importance of feedback in school to me seems quite important and valuable.  
We learn from our mistakes and that’s the honest truth. We shouldn’t be punished for mistakes rather taught and encouraged how to not make them again. In exam situations we sometimes get to go over the questions and see how to do it correctly, with the diplomas and final exams no such luxury is granted. You do what you can and you get a mark, no feedback or an idea of what questions and concepts you struggled with, no learning!

“If a child can't learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.” -Ignacio Estrada

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