Compliance vs learning

Below is a comment I left over at “Think Thank Thunk“.  For those interested in Standards Based Grading (SBG), I highly recommend subscribing:
Your notion that a philosophical change must happen is right on.  If we don’t alter our fundamental beliefs about teaching and learning, a new strategy will just end up looking like everything else we have done.  However, sometimes a new strategy can lead to philosophical wrestling.
Last year, I initiated discussions in my school about revamping our grading practices.  The school had been looking at failure for quite some time and in order to help kids pass, teachers were chasing kids down to “get the work in”.  Getting higher percentages of students to turn in work led to higher grades, but I questioned whether the *learning* had increased.  I thought not.
We discussed what was important and dichotomized the debate: learning vs. compliance.  With this dichotomy, I was easily able to convince other teachers that learning is our goal and that focusing so much on homework completion is simply measuring students compliance.
From these discussions we (as a committee) decided to remove our focus on homework.  We decided that homework designed for practice will not affect students grades.  Importantly, (to avoid mutiny) teachers can still assign homework, just not use it in calculating students grades.  Only assessments will be used for student grades.  This could be class projects, traditional tests, or other forms of assessment (shifting assessment practices will be a future work in progress for the school).  While our elimination of homework grades is not full-on SBG, it is a step away from compliance and toward learning.
To echo what you said about the acronym, had I entered these discussions with a “step by step” protocol, we would have gotten no where.  Instead, I started raising some issues (as you did with the questions you ask).  Then when we really got to our philosophical positions (compliance vs learning) we could create a system that worked for us, and that we thought the rest of our building would be willing to try.
Contextualized problem-solving is so important, we cannot cut and paste strategies or systems.  Instead we must do the difficult work of identifying our philosophical perspective and build solutions from there.  What is amazing to me, is how the discussion we had in our committee align so well with SBG, and I just found you and your blog a month or so ago.  When similar philosophies go to work, it is not surprising they come up with similar responses. :)
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6 Responses to Compliance vs learning

  1. The last trimester of the school year that just ended was my first time giving up grading. I had given up on giving homework a long time ago and now I’ve tried my hand at SBG and I don’t want to go back. Getting my staff to even consider no homework hasn’t gone well at all. Maybe I need to raise the “learning vs compliance” discussion.

    Here are some thoughts I shared on my one trimester going gradeless:
    http://www.educatoral.com/wordpress/2010/06/30/reflections-of-2009-10/

    BTW, I totally subscribed to Think Thank Thunk, thanks!

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  2. jerridkruse says:

    At very deep levels most teachers are on the same page. The hard part is finding those levels. The compliance vs learning is a fundamental belief….few believe schooling is about compliance (but some do :( ). I hope the strategy works for you like it did for me.

    Liked your post. I just subscribed to your blog. Will you be teaching 6th grade science again next year? I may have some resources you could try and give me feedback about.

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  3. Kathy Teel says:

    I’m not sure we should entirely give up on compliance. I completely see your point–that checking things off a list isn’t the same as learning them–but following directions and respecting authority are two skills we should be teaching. I ask my speech students to do things that don’t make much sense to them at the time, and I need them to be compliant and trust that I know what I’m doing. Eventually they will understand, but if they don’t understand yet, it’s okay, as long as they do what I tell them to do. The learning can’t happen without a degree of compliance.

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    • That’s a good point. In order to give parents feedback about their child’s behavior (compliance) I made a standard for behavior that gets assessed separately from content acquisition. It also appeased some of my colleagues.

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    • jerridkruse says:

      I think at some level compliance is ok. But I also want students questioning authority…not anarchy, but if an authority can’t give a valid reason for a rule, there is a problem…that applies to me as the teacher as well. I make this clear to students, and that has gotten me in trouble with colleagues in the past :)

      I think you have hit on a more important point: trust. Perhaps instead of wanting the students to comply, we should focus more on them trusting us. However, we have to gain their trust by showing we genuinely care and that we actually do know where we are going and how to get there. Establishing this trust/caring environment quickly is hard. One way i get kids to trust me and know I care is know there names by day 2. I do that by taking a video of each class (about 1 minute) where each student says their first name to the camera. I study that night and greet each student by name as they enter the second day of class. I couldn’t believe how much more quickly I established repiore (sp?) with my students after that.

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