Saturday, November 30, 2019

Week 15: Growth Mindset and Measures

As I said in my Tortoise Tale from Cameroon, I am really worried about bad numbers in education. I don't like grades and I don't like testing, but I am not against measures of progress: I just want those measures to be meaningful and motivating.

So, when I created this new spreadsheet for repurposing the weekly points totals from Canvas,  I thought long and hard (and spent a few hours tinkering!) about just what numbers would be useful and, in particular, how to provide a kind of interpretation of the numbers for students who find numbers intimidating and/or confusing. Details here.

In terms of my "algorithm" for labeling, I ended up with four different text labels that get applied automatically to each week, and here are some thoughts about why I think these are labels that are helpful for promoting a growth mindset as students work through the course:

great! The idea here is to recognize a student who is working ahead, and the way I measure that is by comparing the average-points-per-week so far (a measure of participation overall) with average-points-required-per-week in order to get to the chosen goal. The label "great!" means that the student can actually put in less effort in the rest of the semester than they have put in so far. I decided that was the best possible measure of "working ahead" because it is dynamic, responding to all the weeks of the semester completed plus the weeks to come, as governed overall by the student's chosen goal.

on track: The idea here is to focus on the core assignments each week: can the student reach their goal by doing the core assignments for the rest of the semester? That's what I am calling "on track" in the sense that no extra credit is required. All the student needs to do to reach their goal is to focus on the core assignments each week.

do extra: This is a really important flag for students to have! The sooner they are alerted to the need to do some extra credit to make up for missing work, the better. This is not really a complex formula, but it is not obvious to students who are not used to my extra credit approach where one of the main functions of extra credit is to make it possible to make up missing work. They don't have to make it up right away, but at the same time it's important not to put that off too long either.

adjust goal: This is the measure I am most proud of. Basically, it is a message of failure in the sense that it is now literally impossible for the student to reach their current goal: even if they complete every single assignment and every single point of extra credit, they will not reach their goal. But here's the thing: they just need to adjust their goal! It's not the end of the world. So, presto, all they have to do is change their goal and see what that does to all the calculations. Yes, it's like the Canvas what-if feature, but in a way that actually works for my classes (the what-if grading feature in Canvas is a total fail for my classes).

So, for example, here's a student who is struggling at the start of the semester if their goal is to get an A. By Week 5, they are already in a deficit requiring some extra credit to get back on track:

But if they are okay with getting a grade of C (i.e. passing the class for Gen. Ed. credit), they're actually doing really well! Sure, they are missing assignments, but they are still on track to meet their goal of passing:

If they want to go for a grade of B, they are even on track for that as the chart shows:

So, in a dialogue with this student, I could suggest that they think about making their goal to get a B in the class. If they really want/need the A (some of my students are in GPA trouble; I hate the whole idea of a GPA, but it's a fact of college life...), they will have to up their game, going from an average of 20 points per week to 31 points per week. And the chart lets them play with that, adjusting their goal, seeing the results, both in numbers, and also in terms of some positive text labels. ALL the labels are positive: you're doing great and/or you are on track, or you can do some extra credit, or you can adjust your goal. Really, it's all good!

Meaningful. Motivating. That's why these are measures that make sense for my courses. I hope they will be useful to students too, and even if students themselves don't use the spreadsheet initially, I can use it to communicate with anyone who is struggling in order to start a conversation, and then put the chart in their hands so they can play with the numbers to see what happens.

So: fingers crossed! I think this is going to be really helpful to students who are struggling, giving them more control over the whole semester and all their options. I'm excited to see how it goes.

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