I had the pleasure last week to attend a workshop with notable author and educator Spence Rogers on his unique and somewhat unorthodox approach to creating assessments. Rogers has been teaching for longer than I have been alive and the three hour workshop hardly scratched the surface of his expertise. To attempt to summarize the depth of his work here would certainly result in gross generalities and inaccuracies, but I thought I’d share a few of the highlights from the experience.
Hold Students Accountable for Each Other
How many minutes each day do teachers spend waiting for students to come into class and take out the necessary materials? In my class, the bell rings, I give the all-call for what they need, and then wait and repeat the request to the molasses kids. They are masters of avoidance and realize a sheet of paper and a pencil can easily eat up a minute or two. Cumulatively, that’s more than a week’s worth of instruction spent waiting for students to get ready for class! Rogers suggests remedying this problem by changing the way requests are made. Rather than ask, “Please take out a piece of paper and a pencil,” instead phrase it, “Please make sure everyone around you has a piece of paper and a pencil.” This small shift makes students accountable for each other and uses positive peer pressure to get the job done.
Test the Hard Stuff
Much of the workshop was spent discussing assessments and how to make them more meaningful. Rogers suggests a method that could loosely be described as a spiraled curriculum (although for a complete explanation, I would suggest picking up a copy of his book, Teaching for Excellence, that integrates assessments throughout rather as a milestone as the end of a unit. By continuing review and reinforcement (Rogers emphasizes that a student needs 28 interactions for real learning to take place), the easier concrete questions can be eliminated from assessments. Students will perform higher on assessments that are more difficult.
Total Response Questioning
Total Response Questioning was a simple strategy that guarantees that all students in the class can answer a question correctly. The teacher asks the entire class to answer a question in a complete sentence and to continue repeating the answer until told to stop. From the front of the room, the teacher can monitor that all students are engaged, and it also forces every kid to answer the question (while also accumulating those 28 interactions). The result is the room erupting into a cacophony of voices. It’s a bit hokey, but it works.
According to Rogers, assessments discover what students know and how lessons can be adjusted as necessary. Evaluations are used to document what students know. Interesting – In a world of high stakes student assessments and a new teacher evaluation system, it seems some high-ups in New York State could benefit from an evening with Spence Rogers.
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