Wednesday March 11, 2015

Math without marks

Dave Martin says just because math is based in numbers, doesn't mean it should be assessed using numbers. The high school math teacher says he has a better idea: give written feedback. 

Why? 

He says when they're not getting percentage grades, his students focus on his comments and learn better. Since the point of the course is for students to learn a set of skills by the end of a term, Martin says it doesn't make sense to punish those who learn more slowly by starting to assign marks right out of the gate. 

How does it work? 

Martin says his assignments are generally comprised of multiple step questions. If a student makes a simple mistake, like an addition error, he points it out and asks them to correct it. He may also ask them to explain the implication of the misstep. If it's a bigger problem, he will write a comment explaining the issue, or will sit down and reteach the student. 

When it comes to giving a final grade, Martin has to do things a bit differently. Usually, a teacher has a term's worth of marks to add up. Instead, he looks at the list of expected learning outcomes, and gives each student a mark based on the percentage of outcomes they have achieved. 

'I want a kid's mark to reflect what they know at the end, not how long it took them to learn it.' - Dave Martin, math teacher

What do students, parents, and other teachers think of this system? 

Students who are often discouraged by math are happy in his class, says Martin. Because they don't start by getting bad marks, they have the confidence to persevere and really learn each lesson. He says the system also allows him to teach beyond the curriculum with students who are quick to learn-- he uses his comments to provide further information and challenges. 

He says some parents and teachers have concerns, but as soon as they see how it works they get on board. Parents are pleased to see their students engaged in the class, and at least one other teacher has adopted the method.