Monday, August 6, 2018

Charting a course: learning vs. learned

The subtitle of this blog entry captures an idea I heard from English teacher Monte Syrie in Washington state. Contributing long-distance to a panel in Colorado discussing alternatives to traditional grading, Monte sketched an idea he plans to focus on in 2018-19: favoring learning as an ongoing, continuous, present-tense process over the notion that content can be learned (that is to say, mastered) with past-tense finality. Monte's words have been niggling my brain for a week.

As part of preparing for the imminent school year, I started sifting standards for two of the courses I'll teach. Loose units began to coalesce around these standards, with areas of focus for reading, writing, and speaking. Still, the past-tenseness of the standards irked me in ways it never had before -- the proclamations about mastery seemed more mirage than meaningful. The standards make shiny targets, but they're of debatable worth for every single student in my care: compliance as fool's gold.

Consider representative eighth-grade reading standards like these: "I read to find and record information. I sequence or outline events in note form. I paraphrase or summarize a variety of readings, spotlighting relevant learning."

For students who aren't yet reading like that when warranted, how might standards like these better point readers to incremental ways forward? And for students who have already performed as such readers, what then?

What if I were to revise course standards foregrounding growth? Here's one draft using the above examples, with emphasis added: "I read to find and record information more efficiently. I sequence or outline increasingly complex events in note form. I paraphrase or summarize a variety of readings, spotlighting relevant learning more concisely."

Might students and I be able to use standards like those to meaningfully distinguish how readers are progressing or, if they're stalled, how to get their reading lives moving again?

I'm reminded of micro-progressions that I learned about two summers ago during a #cyberPD book study of DIY Literacy. (Tricia Ebarvia sums up this structure in her blog here.) I posit that rungs on a micro-progression might enable growth momentum, helping students and me hash out what progress along the continuum of a particular standard looks like; or when particular students reach the envelope's edge, how we might push it in service of literacy that knows no -- or fewer -- limits.

Now, my leading worry: Once past the heady, often hermetically sealed days of back-to-school planning, these ideas may prove to be pipe dreamy or too murky to implement in a world still governed by black-and-white grades. (For the record, I've got thoughts there, too. Inspired by California educator Mari Venturino, I'm considering tweaking her mastery tasks as growth challenges that will yield a body of evidence that bridges us to grades.)

This is a path I see value in exploring, and I'm stating my in-progress thinking here because I welcome feedback and/or push-back from you. What do you see down this road I'm imagining? How much here might be specific to English Language Arts versus having commonalities with other disciplines? If you've been down any part of this road before, what's it like, and what should I know that I don't?

1 comment:

  1. Opportunities to learn to learn & learn to teach abound. Finding them & making strong foundations for mutual benefit is the challenge. You, the students & colleagues (near & far) have the secret: keep at it! !gnilims peeK & !tseb ruoy eB