Wednesday Wars: Assessment

In this response to Schmidt’s Wednesday Wars, talk about what you noticed in the book relative to assessment, grading, and testing. As you respond, feel free to connect what you learned/observed in the reading to your own experience (both as a student and as a soon-to-be teacher) and the discussions we’ve had in class. You should either log in to a WordPress account or include your name somewhere in your comment so I know to credit you for your participation.

You might consider commenting on some of these ideas:

  • What kinds of assessments does Schmidt highlight in the story? Especially consider the assessments used by Mrs. Baker. Would you classify these as traditional or more progressive?
  • What about informal assessment techniques? Do you see any of these highlighted in the story?
  • What do the assessments given by Mrs. Baker (and others) capture about student learning? What do they miss?
  • How does the way you see testing and grading through Holling’s eyes similar to and different from the way you see it as a student?
  • Students are not the only ones assessed in this story–react to the way that teachers are assessed, especially given an increased focus in today’s system on teacher evaluation.

As you comment, remember that you may build on comments left by students before you. Please post your comments and/or responses to the thread below by the date indicated in the syllabus schedule.

7 thoughts on “Wednesday Wars: Assessment

  1. When thinking about this prompt, the first thing I thought of was on page 60 when it talks about Mrs. Baker grading his test on The Tempest:

    “Mrs. Baker took it calmly, then reached into her bottom drawer for an enormous red pen with a wide felt tip. ‘Stand here and we’ll see how you’ve done.” she said, which is sort of like a dentist handing you a mirror and saying, ‘Sit here and watch while I drill a hole in your tooth.’ Te first four were wrong, and she slashed through my answers with a broad swathe of bright red rink. It looked like my test was bleeding to death.”

    Thought Holling’s description could be considered dramatic, I know that I felt similarly as a student when I would get essays back from teachers. There would be red marks all over it. I remember, in particular, a creative writing teacher that handed back one of my stories with markings everywhere and I felt so disheartened. I had been really proud of my story and after looking at her grading, I didn’t want to keep working on it and felt even a little hurt. It felt like Holling’s words: It looked like my story was bleeding to death.
    This has made me think about feedback and grading. I remember back to the grammar class with the quote that said, “See everything, overlook a great deal, correct little.” As a future teacher, I want to keep that in mind because yes I may want my students to improve (which I think Mrs. Baker managed to do in her own way), but I also don’t want to discourage them from keeping on trying either.

    • I think this idea of students’ writing “bleeding to death” is a really interesting one. It’s one of the things that stood out to me as well. It’s particularly interesting because I think we should be asking questions about the effectiveness of this kind of feedback in the first place. Not only can it discourage students to see that “broad swathe of bright red ink” (at least those who read it), there is little evidence to suggest that they’re taking those comments into consideration the next time they’re ask to write. I would guess that students may recall a mistake or two they’ve made on a paper that was corrected in this fashion, but by and large I just don’t think it’s the most effective way to teach or give feedback. Editing has it’s place, make no mistake, but correcting every single mistake on the final draft seems like greatly wasted effort, not to mention time.

  2. (Hey this is Mandi. I don’t know if my name will show up or not)

    One thing the first caught my attention about Mrs. Baker’s assessments was page 141 when she says “No–no more one-hundred-and-fifty-question tests. You are ready for more than that.”

    I had been concerned that her assessments were a little OVERLY traditional, but I was at least a little encouraged by this comment that showed she had an end in mind. She wasn’t just choosing one form of assessment that worked best for her and assessing everything that way; her assessments were progressive, themselves working up to more difficult or complex forms of expressing learning. I like that a lot. I agree that all work done over the course of the year, even culminating assessments, should constantly move students toward a higher level of communication so that their products at the end of the year show THEM more than anyone else just what they have learned.

    The other assessment moment that caught my attention while reading was the incident spanning pages 150-153 in which Holling writes an essay on Romeo and Juliet based on his negative experience, comes to understand his own experience better, and writes a more comprehensive and nuanced essay as a result. First of all, I think Holling was making a lot of complex connections all on his own, which is great, but doesn’t really model the scaffolding we’ve heard so much about. I like that Mrs. Baker is very willing to accept his revised essay, but I think there should have been a conversation about WHY the second essay was better. It wasn’t necessarily that Holling had the answer wrong the first time, just that the second analysis was more complete, which I think is an important distinction to make. Students shouldn’t think they write the wrong thing, try again and write the right thing. They should understand that rewrites should be opportunities for further exploration, re-seeing the text and context, and applying new understanding to communicate more effectively.

  3. I think that Mrs. Baker’s assessments are very traditional. She starts with tests and then moves on to essays. These formats are very familiar to all students because we all see these types of assessments in school. Holling sees both of these as consequences of Mrs. Baker’s “hatred” toward him. I think that we an see that Mrs. Baker does not hate him but is just trying to make sure that he has understood the texts he was reading while having time to get caught up on other grading and things that needed to be taken care of in the classroom.

    It was also interesting to see how state mandated tests were treated in this book. Holling viewed the principal’s attitude and actions about this test just as another way he was trying to be a dictator at the school. In reality these tests could have had a big impact on the funding that the school would receive.

  4. I want to start by saying that Natalie’s comment stuck out to me because I’ve got this weird fear of using the red pen. I’m not necessarily afraid of offending my students; in fact, sometimes I think students need to be offended in order to learn. However, I don’t want to unnecessarily hurt their feelings, and I feel like you can just use a different stinking color of pen. ANYWAY.

    I also want to talk about the interaction between Natalie’s and Mandi’s comments, because these instances were on my mind as well. I do think that Mrs. Baker’s approaches and assessments trend towards the traditional, but I don’t think that’s always a bad thing. Also, we have to remember it was the 60s, but I digress. I think the assessment itself isn’t the most important question, but rather the intention and purpose behind the assignment, and what you’re hoping to achieve with it. Of course, assessments are effective and really succeed when your purpose is useful and then the assessment is actually good at gauging students’ achievement of that purpose. However, as shown in Mandi’s comment, I think that Mrs. Baker’s intentions were good. She wanted to prepare students for higher-level assessments, but she thought that starting them out with more traditional assessments was a good way to get them ready for that. Then, when she thought they were ready, she gave them those higher-level assessments. Obviously so much of this is situational, and maybe she could have pushed them harder sooner, but I definitely understand her reasoning.

    – Brandy

  5. Ben Brockbank

    Jacob I liked what you said about Holling’s attitude about state tests and how you talked about how they may affect school funding. As a student I remember not hating the state assessments but I think I would’ve had more of a negative attitude about them if more of them had been part of my grade.

    As a student I had not seen assessments necessarily as progressive. I remember being in an English class in 9th grade and having various types of assessments but I had not seen how they built on each other and helped me to progress in my skills. I had seen them more as simply separate assessments. The book shows how Mrs. Baker works to give assessments that are progressive. As a teacher I think it is important to help students see how assessments connect to and build upon class content. It is also important to ensure that different assessments are not just given to have a variety but that there is a clear objective behind the type of assessment that is chosen.

    The attitude of Holling and I differed slightly with how we viewed grading. I never felt that a teacher was out to get me or that they hated me but I do remember feeling bad when I thought I had put in good effort and I had done well and I hadn’t gotten the best score. I remember in high school where the teacher read opening paragraphs of essays anonymously to the class as examples. He read mine and said that it wasn’t the best in a polite way. I remember feeling bad because I thought I had done well. It happened similarly with the same teacher when we talked about what I had done for part of a project.

    The attitude of Hollins and I were similar with his experience with his Romeo and Juliet essay. I have found that whether it has been a resubmission, receiving feedback on something, or discovering for myself how I can improve my work, it has helped me to explore new facets that I otherwise would not have considered. Hollin’s is able to write a better essay on Romeo and Juliet the second time around, one that is more complex. When teachers have worked with me to develop skills and improve my writing through feedback from a grade or allowing resubmission verses simply telling me what I did wrong or what to fix, it has helped me to internalize skills that I have used in future assessments and other areas of my schooling and outside of school.

  6. So I also thought that mostly Mrs. Baker’s assessments were pretty traditional. What I noticed most particularly was how she gave Holling a boatload of questions to answer about a play he had read, and then went over the questions and marked wrong what he missed. We didn’t get a look at what kinds of questions they were, but if she was handing him a stack of 25 or 50 (I can’t remember how many it was) questions and he answered them all that day, they can only have been comprehension-type questions. Also, she wasn’t really scaffolding his learning well if she was giving him that big stack of questions AFTER he had read, and just expecting him to answer them. I was unimpressed by that part.
    I think that that kind of assessment also leads pretty logically to Holling’s interpretation: I guess she does hate me still. Of course, that changes after a while, as Holling and Mrs. Baker develop a good relationship, and he learns to love Shakespeare, but initially, he views the assignment as punishment. There can be no other explanation to this cruelty, he thinks.
    I also noted what Mandi mentioned, about the Romeo and Juliet essay. I think that is a great model of the way writing is a mode of learning. Through writing that essay, Holling was able to make personal connections to the test–a kind of thinking I’m inclined to believe would not have happened if he had not done the writing.

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