Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Why Left-Brainers Don't Get High Grades, Part III: Motivation, Sociability, and Graphic Arts

As discussed in yesterday's post, today's grade school students are graded less for their skill level, and more on how well they work in class, their oral responses, their journal entries, and the work they produce.  

New report card guidelines encourage teachers to de-emphasize tests, and to forgo short-answer tests altogether, even for math. In the words of the Christina School District guidelines:

It is not recommended that the math teacher rely on multiple choice, fill-in-the-blank tests or tests with bare math facts. Tests that are better indicators of student learning may include:
• Descriptions (Describe the problem and the process used to solve it.) 
• Explanations (Explain how or why a process works to solve a problem.) 
• Graphing (Make a bar or line graph to show data collected.) 
• Drawing and Labeling (Draw a solution and label the parts.) 
• Performance Assessments (Demonstrate how you would set up an investigation, gather data, graph and analyze data to arrive at a reasonable and accurate conclusion.)

What about homework? Some report card guidelines recommend against factoring into grades those assignments where parents might have helped out. In the words of the Christina Guidelines: “Projects that are done at home with the help of parents should not be given a score that is reflected on the report card.” 

All this makes grades primarily a function of what students produce during class time, and how they behave during classroom activities. Which, in turn, is how many smart left-brainers, even if they do their best to play by the new rules, fall short of top grades.  

First, shyness or lack of sociability can make it hard for them to jump into class discussions and cooperate "appropriately" in group activities.

Second, the swift, subconscious calculations and sophisticated mathematical strategies of the left-brain math buff, however strong his or her verbal skills, are difficult, if not impossible, to explain to others.

Third, many of them have skewed developmental profiles, with analytical skills far exceeding not just social skills, but the penmanship, organization, and graphic arts skills that figure prominently in today's classroom activities and testing "rubrics" (see above).

Fourth, with their linear, one-thing-at-a-time minds, many of them find the sensory clutter, multidisciplinary breadth, and multi-step directions of today's hands-on activities confusing, overwhelming, and disengaging. They have trouble maintaining attention, making transitions, and motivating themselves to be motivated.  Without attention, motivation, and the ability to move on, their performance falters.

Finally, overwhelmed and under-motivated, even the most diligent of them struggle to go the extra mile that top grades now require: e.g., in the words of the Christina Guidelines, to "consistently extend mathematical concepts and make new connections beyond grade level expectations", and "integrat[e] connections,"  Or, in the words of the Philadelphia School District, to "demonstrate[...] superior understanding of concepts, skills, and strategies," and the "ability to apply concepts and extend learning."

Not that left-brainers aren't constantly extending concepts and making new connections.  It's just that they do so in highly abstract and analytical ways that most teachers don't recognize, particularly when adhering to today's "rubrics," "best practices," and "formative assessments."

Top grades, it would seem, are reserved for the eager-beaver who either relishes the right-brained classroom activities, or has enough social savvy to know how to act as if she does.  

No comments: