Wednesday, November 04, 2015

It's All in the Cards

We had PD yesterday and I had the opportunity to hear further on the subject of the much-ballyhooed green and red cards. Apparently they're quite useful, and today we also heard about the possibility of yellow cards. Evidently, they add 50% to our options, which is really cool, or a disaster, depending upon whom you ask. Also they can be laminated, which makes them shinier, greener, redder, or even yellower.

I'm clearly a late-bloomer, as I've only known about the wonderful green and red cards for a year. I learned about them on the occasion of a supervisor explaining to a teacher (not me), about the wonderful world of formative assessment. Oddly, this supervisor observed dozens of teachers last year, and did precisely zero formative assessment on those with whom he had issues. But I digress.

Anyway, if you have kids hold up green cards when they understand, and red cards when they don't, that's formative assessment and you are a better teacher. Now there is some disagreement about how the cards are held up. A supervisor may tell you to hold them up, but criticize you for asking students to hold them up high. Such a supervisor will have determined there's nothing wrong with holding them up, but holding them up high goes beyond the pale.

In my PD session the presenters suggested that kids not hold up the cards at all. They suggested the kids lay them on the desks, and helpfully added the possibility of the yellow card for those who weren't certain whether or not they understood. I didn't have a yellow card, but I certainly knew what I didn't understand.

What I didn't understand was why this system was any improvement over the old one, where you ask, "Does everyone understand?" and then move on regardless of whether anyone understands. You see, when you ask if everyone understands, few teenagers are inclined to out themselves as the ones who don't. So even if absolutely no one understands, you get zero negative responses. You pat yourself on the back for being a master teacher, and all the kids do whatever.

Now the whole red and green card thing is more impressive. It's a little more sophisticated. After all, everyone knows it's not cool to just ask if everyone understands and plod on. Now, you can say hold up green cards for, "I understand," or red cards for "clueless," and if no one pleads clueless, well then you can plod on and do whatever.  You just need to determine whether your supervisor wants the cards up, up high, or on the desk. But once the kids hold up those green cards you are highly effective and can leap tall buildings with a single bound.

The whole card thing is so much better than what I do, which is ask questions all the time, and note who can and cannot answer. It's far superior to walking around the room and actually watching who does the work, who doesn't, who can, and to what extent. Nonetheless, the card approach assumes children, especially teenagers, are 100% honest all the time, suffer from zero insecurity ever, and if they say they understand that ought to be good enough for anyone.

Maybe, if the green cards are so meaningful, we should do away with all non-formative assessments and simply pass every student who holds up a green card. That makes about as much sense as anything I've heard about the card system.
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