Another round of quizzes, another blog post on how my students aren't doing so well with my current system. But this time, I think I'm getting closer to a why.
On the last day before Christmas Break, Cathy Hamilton spoke to us. A good part of what she talked with us about was the poverty mentality. The district I teach in has 52% of our students on free or reduced lunch. That number could potentially be higher since there may be families who don't apply for free or reduced lunch (pride issues). The part that resonated the most with me was about how people who are in poverty are in "survival" mode. They are thinking about the present and getting through today. Future is not very prevalent in their thoughts. People in the middle class are future-focused. They talk to their children about what they're going to be when they grow up, going to college, and other "future" things. People in poverty don't do that. They are focused on getting through today. Another difference is how people in poverty look at their situation versus those in the middle class. People in poverty feel that it's just their luck things are the way they are or it's just the way it is. If their child is bad in math, "that's just how our family is." Unlike people in the middle class, they feel they don't have a choice. People in the middle class talk about choices. If a child from a middle class family did something wrong, they made a "bad choice." Middle class people offer their children choices to make all of the time. They do their best to help their children make the best choices.
So, getting back to my quizzing issue. To recap - this year I have been giving quizzes every 3 concepts or so. The most recent 3 learning targets I give them feedback only. The 3 learning targets that I have already given feedback on (the earlier ones) are graded. Most of this year, students in my Algebra 2 classes have been concentrating on the graded learning targets and making less and less of an attempt on the feedback ones. I did try right before break allowing students to earn their 5 (they mastered it!) on the (normally) feedback problems to see if they would put forth more effort on the feedback problems. In my Advanced Algebra 2 class, my students put forth better effort on the feedback problems and not quite half earned the 5 on at least one of the three learning targets. They had another quiz yesterday with the same deal and only 1 student earned a 5. In my Algebra 2 classes, I had a handful of students earn 5s on their quizzes before break. They have their quiz on Friday.
Also lurking in all of this is my Math I classes. They seem to do better with the 3-3 system. It's actually really surprised me. Usually, since they are the lowest ability students, they tend to give up much easier. They almost always do all of the problems - they take it very seriously. I don't think I'll change it to unit tests for them. In fact, I did that this time (we had a 4 learning target unit) and they didn't do as well. With this next unit, back to teach 3, quiz 3, teach 3 more, quiz 6 (3 graded, 3 feedback), repeat.
So... do I have an answer? Well, the more I think about this, the more I think it goes back to this poverty/survival mentality of focusing on the present rather than the future. My students are in a survival mode in their lives and that translates over to school. Teenagers as it is don't focus on future things much anyway and I think that my students even more so are concentrating so much on the present and surviving that they don't look toward what they could do to get ahead. As far as their quizzes go, they focus on the graded material because that is the "present" in my class - it's what needs to be dealt with now. Surviving in my class means doing the best they can on those graded learning targets. In many cases, I am thinking that they don't even attempt the feedback problems because they aren't focusing on them in their preparation for their quiz since it's not factoring into their grade now. They are probably thinking that they'll learn it when they need to for the grade. I am also now wondering that if the drop off in re-assessments I'm seeing has to do with the same thing. If their grade is "acceptable," why bother trying to improve it? If it's not "acceptable," now the student has to do re-assessments to get the grade up just enough to be "acceptable" again.
Answering the question creates other questions. How do you get students who are so focused on doing what needs to be done today to shift their focus? If my students are focused on the present, is doing the 3-3 method I mentioned earlier really the best thing? They're not doing much on the feedback problems. I almost feel like it's a waste of time. I don't like doing quizzes every five to seven class days (it eats up class time, it's a pain to prepare assessments that often, not to mention it feels like I am constantly writing quizzes and grading them). Am I better off going back to the way I was doing it before ("unit" tests with some feedback quizzes)? Is there a better way? Anyone out there in a similar socio-economic situation and doing SBG? I'd love to hear your thoughts and how you do assessment. Even if your socio-economic situation is not like mine, I'd love to hear your thoughts on what to do about my assessment dilemma. What I do know is that what I'm doing is not the best way. Now I have to figure out what that "best" way is.