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Reflecting on a parent-teacher meeting

Posted on: May 22, 2017

Last week, my wife and I visited my son’s school for a series of parent-teacher meetings.

I liked how the school had an online booking system to schedule meetings with teachers. This prevented a chaotic free-for-all.

I also liked how my son had to accompany us to take an active part in the meetings. The was an excellent way for him to take ownership of his learning.

It is not enough to tell students how to make improvements; it is just as important to listen to what they have to say. Listening allows us to determine how they have processed the discussion and if they have thoughts of their own.
 
Quantitative grading ends learning. Quality feedback sustains learning.
 
But I am concerned about the state of teacher assessment literacy of a few of my son’s teachers. To be clear, these are just anecdotes from a convenience sample of teachers I had discussions with.

The issues were:

  1. Irregular use of rubrics for formative feedback.
  2. Placing the curricular race before remediation.
  3. Testing what was not taught or modelled explicitly.
  4. Not aligning the quantitative with the qualitative.

 

 
Irregular use of rubrics for formative feedback
I liked how one teacher used an essay rubric as a feedback tool.

Students should be given a rubric not as a crutch or checklist, but for them to rise above the noise. My son’s essay was marked up so that it was impossible to tell that he had one main area to improve on. The rubric was a way to not miss the forest for the trees.

I asked the teacher if rubric-based feedback was a regular practice. She replied that it was a rare occurrence. Its use seemed tied to the mid-year exam, but it could have been part of weekly, fortnightly, or monthly exercises before the exam.

Think of this another way: No one throws a novice into a tennis tournament to provide feedback on how to improve a serve or footwork. Such feedback happens during regular practice.

Rubric use must be regular and strategic. Its use was rare and the feedback came after an exam and right before a month-long school vacation. There was no room for remediation and corrective action.

The rubric was used in summative assessment (the mid-year exam). It could have been better employed in formative assessment during the learning, not after it.
 

 
Placing the curricular race before remediation
I learnt that another teacher’s strategy was to teach difficult topics in the first half of the year followed by easier ones. This might be a good strategy if the goal was to provide time for learners to catch up with the difficult topics later in the year.

After being shown the curriculum topics for the year, I asked if there was a way for students to revisit the difficult topics. The teacher gave a standard reply: Curricular time was tight and they moved on to the next flavour of the week.

I wonder if teachers realise this is one reason why parents and students resort to remedial tuition. If the school and their teachers barrel along, parents and students will find alternatives for remediation. Ask enough good tuition teachers why they are passionate about what they do and they will probably say that it is to help kids who fall through the cracks.

Now this is not to say that my son’s teacher was uncaring. Like most teachers, he made it clear that my son could make an appointment to consult him.

One purpose of assessment is to provide feedback. What should immediately follow is remediation. What should not happen is ignoring the problem by moving on to the next topic.

If a group of runners falls down and get injured during a race, the coach should not insist they keep running. The coach and able runners around them should stop to help the injured. It is important to finish the race, but it is more important to take care of the runners first.

The wellbeing of the racers is more important than the race itself.
 

 
Testing what was not taught or modelled explicitly
Weeks before the parent-teacher meeting, my son told me about a test question he could not answer. I asked him if the teacher had taught the topic and he replied that the teacher had not.

At the parent-teacher meeting, I found out that the teacher actually left clues like a scavenger hunt over a series of separate events. His rationale was that students needed to make the connections.

While I applaud his attempt to promote higher order thinking, I wonder if he made this expectation clear and if he modelled this strategy explicitly for his students.

Cognition and metacognition are related but separated. Much of everyday teaching and learning is about cognition: I tell you, I find out if you understand.

The ability to make connections between seemingly separate events is about metacognition. It is about choosing different thinking strategies to make those connections. If students do not see a model of metacognition and do not practice those skills, they cannot be expected to operate this way.

I do not mean that students need to be spoon-fed and hand-held all the way. Metacognition is thinking about thinking and it is supposed to be challenging. But when a teacher is transitioning kids to be metacognitively aware, it helps to be methodical and to provide scaffolds.

The purpose of a test should not be to scare students. It should be about showing you care about their cognition and metacognition. So you should not test was what not taught or modelled explicitly.
 

 
Not aligning the quantitative with the qualitative
As we received a qualitative progress report before quantitative scores were released, we made appointments with teachers based on the former.

We found out only after the scores were released that the qualitative and the quantitative were not always aligned. By then, it was too late to make changes to the online system because the appointments were locked.

One might argue that the qualitative comments were more about teachers’ impressions and feedback that was is not captured by a test. One example is everyday behaviour and general attitude during lessons.

However, given that the comments focused largely on academics, there should be some alignment between a teacher’s observations and actual performance. If not, one might doubt the teacher’s attention to each learner and their evaluations of them.

This just boils down to numbers and statements making sense. If a student is doing well (or not) test-wise and the comments are aligned, the quantitative and the qualitative match up. If they do not, they confuse both child and parent.

Closing thoughts
I might come across as being overly critical of the teachers I had discussions with. Know this: Both my wife and I are educators, so we not only intuitively understand my son’s teachers, we also have insights that other parents might not.

As a teacher educator, I have additional insights that I share because I care for the teaching profession. Some of the things I write about may be difficult to read, but they come from an honest and informed place.

If you asked me what the most important trait is for teachers, I would say: Being a reflective practitioner. Nipping on the heels of that is the ability to provide clear and actionable feedback to learners.

All four of my critiques are linked to feedback for learning. This, in turn, is a function of a teacher’s assessment literacy. My feedback to teachers is this: Keep on learning about assessment, evaluation, and feedback. These are core to effective teaching and meaningful learning.

1 Response to "Reflecting on a parent-teacher meeting"

yainping 方炎彬: Reflecting on a parent-teacher meeting ashleytan.wordpress.com/2017/05/22/ref… via twitter.com

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