Thinking and Linking by Joanne Jacobs
From the U.S. Coalition for World Class Math:
Do any education professors really know about learning or teaching? And they wonder why there are conspiracy theories…easier than recognizing mass stupidity.
Thankfully, I have seen a decided move away from “math essays” in my district (and others) over the last decade. We first began seeing the expectation for children to write long discursive verbal explanations of their answers around 2000 (maybe a little earlier), and this was not only emphasized in class practices like “math journals” but on the annual performance-based, a.k.a. “holistic” assessments as well. Students had to write an “essay” for nearly every complex problem, and even if they showed their work and got the correct answer, they would be scored “below basic” if they did not provide a verbose explanation. These often ran to 250 words or more and were more remarkable for creativity and logorrhea than for mathematical insight.
A few years ago I noticed the tests were changing to limit this nonsense. Formerly, students would write in the margins and all over the page (word had spread that the highest grades went only to students who wrote an excessive amount); the test administration guides warned school staff that no writing outside the answer box would be graded or counted in any way. The answer boxes kept getting smaller so that they were reduced from a page and a half to a 3-5 line rectangle. Most questions no longer required a verbal explanation, only “show your calculations.”
I have seen some value in students explaining, briefly, in words what they are doing to solve a problem, but the former excesses were absurd. I’ve noticed the last few exams I’ve helped monitor have had only two or three problems requiring verbal elaboration, and that could be done in around two sentences, for example “I found the mode by making a t-chart of the results and counting the number for each value. The value with the most occurrences is the mode.” Concise and shows the student’s understanding of the question.
Of course there may be late comers to this already expiring trend (or at least I hope it is on its way out — my district is never a trend leader, so if we are moving on to greater emphasis on foundation skills and automaticity, there must be others doing the same); some fads are as enduring and hard to slay as the Hydra and its many heads.
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