Imagine you walk into a gymnasium for the very first time. You see the coach holding a basketball and you watch her shoot a free throw. The skill has been modeled for you. The coach passes you the ball and asks you to take a shot. You grab the ball, reflect on the modeled behavior the coach demonstrated and push the ball toward the hoop. It falls short, way short. The coach looks over and calls out “F!” She records this data in her grade book and says try again. You grab the ball, understanding more about the weight of the projectile from your first experience and push the ball forward again. This time you hit the backboard hard. The coach states “D,” and rebounds for you. Five shots later, you finally make a basket. The coach is pleased and yells out “A, way to go.” She pulls out a calculator and starts averaging your score for the day.
F, D, D, D, F, D, A, your average is an F. Is this fair? Did this actually assess your ability to make a shot. Should your practice have been graded? Are you motivated to continue?
This scenario is unthinkable and yet it happens everyday in the classroom. Timothy Keith reported a correlation between homework and achievement on standardized test scores and teachers doubled down on assigning and assessing practice (Keith, 1982). Keith may have found a connection between practice and scores but I disagree on grading this practice. We treat everyday as if were game day; keeping score and tallying up points. An F on an assignment a student did not understand is not replaced when a student demonstrates understanding after additional instruction.
Today’s students, raised on video games and apps, truly have no experience with this system. In Candy Crush you keep trying until you run out of lives. When you run out of lives you simply wait the stated time and try again. In Crossy Road you get hit by a car, grab a new avatar and try to cross the road again. Why is school the one place where practice can impact you negatively? You practice math equations for homework and your grade suffers? You practice conjugating verbs for Spanish as class work and your grade decreases? This concept does not apply in any other realm of our students’ lives and it should not be a part of our classrooms.
The proper use of technology in the classroom is the key to changing educators’ mindset about practice. A student can retake a Google Quiz until they get it right. Technology will eliminate teacher concerns regarding setting up one-on-ones meetings, grading and feedback. Newsela can offer articles at just the right reading level at the click of a button. Spelling City and Reflex Math allow students to practice teacher selected content and skills, without placing an excessive burden on the classroom teacher. 25 years from now students will be able to search a content or skill set they wish to practice; identify their grade level and have unlimited access to practice. You will find kids begging their parents to stay up late and take one more quiz in the same manner my son begs me to stay up late and shoot the basketball a few more times.
Un-assessed practice will also help us combat the test-crazed, empirical data driven rabbit hole we have fallen into. If we continue on our current path, standardized test scores will become more and more important; determine funding for schools, teacher retention and student tracking. Only practice can ensure our students are ready for these high-stakes tests and un-assessed practice will give students the confidence and motivation to prepare appropriately.students Technology will allow students the practice they need to become masters of their own education.