Recently I was listening to Michael Campbell’s radio show “Money Talks” and he or one of his guests referred to a quote attributed to German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer: “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.”
My breath caught – here’s why.
- In my second year of teaching I stopped giving marks and started giving feedback. The parent community watched in silence (perhaps, in light of the next two bullets, some of them imagined that this crazy no-marks business was isolated to my one classroom and was therefore non-threatening).
- In my third year of teaching, a science teacher and a social studies teacher joined me in using assessment as learning and a loud portion of the parent community erupted. One threatened me with a lawsuit. One reported me to the admissions department of the University of British Columbia. Many called angry meetings with our principal and us. My colleagues and I faced verbally violent opposition.
- In my fourth year of teaching, my colleagues and I continued to work as we had been and were invited to share our approach with hundreds of teachers around the province, country, and several other countries. This continues to be the case.
My experience echoes Schopenhauer’s stages of truth.
While the second stage was indeed difficult for my colleagues and I, it isn’t images of my endurance, exhaustion or stress that remain with me; it is what one parent said and others nodded at. During a meeting meant to explain the process of assessment, to assuage worries, and inspire confidence with some upset parents, my colleagues and I explained, with visuals,
- why using feedback helps students deepen and extend their learning;
- why marks stopped rather than encouraged learning;
- how we went about using criteria;
- how students engaged with one another around ideas and skills rather than competed against one another for status;
- and that this approach helps to differentiate learning so that in a classroom of 30 individuals students are challenged in personalized ways.
After a couple of hours we had gotten nowhere. These parents’ faces still shone red, mouths still pulled tight, and foreheads still furrowed.
Finally, a man near the back said this: You mean to tell me that if my son gets an A at the beginning of the unit and keeps getting an A at the end of the unit will get the same mark as a kid who comes in with a C and then gets better and gets an A on the stuff by the end of the unit? They both leave the unit with an A?
My colleagues and I looked at one another, unsure if we were missing something. Yes, we said. That’s what we mean.
That is total crap, said the man, to the nods of others.
Oh, we get it now. Some parents (not all!) don’t want all children to achieve success. Some parents must enjoy the status quo, a status quo where it’s okay if other children always do badly if their sons or daughters always do well. In fact, it’s preferable.
How absolutely sad.
Fortunately, this realization deepened our commitment to using assessment as learning. Actually, that man’s anger at our approach tells me that we’re on the right track.
*Please note – while I am referring to real events the dialogue is the dialogue as I remember it; I am not working from a transcript of the meeting.