Sunday, September 28, 2014

Our class errorometer

While sharing pints with a few teachers upstairs at McGinty's,
Chris Harbeck took a sip of Guinness, then tossed out a few words that changed my teaching--
"I give out points for anything, a thousand here, a thousand there. They don't mean anything."

Image PD, quote added by Golda Poretsky.

We train kids to fear mistakes.

That's not always a bad thing--I just spent the better part of this glorious fall weekend breaking a pipe that required cutting a hole in the wall because I have more confidence than skills, and may need to call a plumber to fix what I broke.

Still, I learned a lot about plumbing and 1908 pipe threads--things were not quite as standardized then--and I have to admit, I enjoyed solving the many problems that popped up along the way. Even if this project ends up an utter disaster, I had fun along the way, satisfying some evolutionary trait that kept my lineage around for over three billion years.

(I am convinced that "fun" is pretty much always an evolutionary artifact.)

Boy Scouts having fun, 1913, via Shorpy.

School is not fun; making too many mistakes gets you labeled as that kid, and too many teachers say that those kid will end up broke, homeless, and hungry unless we teach them to make fewer mistakes.

We fuck them up even more with the religion of ranking.
Many of my "top-ranked" lambs are my most timid.
So I worked on fixing this.

Here's one of my ideas that seems to have worked:

We have a class Errorometer Board. Each time someone makes a good mistake--and there are all kinds of errors that fall in this category--we add a point. For every 10 points, everybody in class gets bonus points factored into their grades, as real as any other points "earned."

Yes, some wackadoodle well versed in the school game will then say something deliberately wrong to earn points, and I explain why saying something deliberately wrong does not count. We're not about the school game, we're about learning.

Even after the novelty wears off, the kids keep track of the Errorometer--they will spontaneously evaluate whether a mistake has earned a point.  I also toss in points for great, unexpected right answers.

Chris Harbeck is right, the points mean nothing. I finally found a way to make them useful.
Frank Noschese and Christopher Danielson were sharing the same rounds.
Photo of Errorometer coming whenever I remember to take a picture.


Mr. H said...

Brilliant. I am starting an error board on Monday. Love this.

Kids are so quiet and not willing to risk answers or even voice one. This will be a tool to push them to open their minds and voices.

Keep on inspiring and teaching.

Mary Ann Reilly said...

Perhaps the start at a revolution. Human.