I wanted to start the year with a pre-assessment as a way to find out what my students did and did not know. One of the things I learned last year was not to assume students know the difference between a substance and a mixture, between a color change and a chemical change. But I couldn't just be that teacher who gives a "test" on the first day of school just to be a tough guy, and I knew without framing it correctly, a pre-assessment would come off as exactly that -- too tough. Students might feel defeated about what they don't know before they even started learning. I needed the pre-test to be as low pressure as possible while still being meaningful enough not to blow it off.
So I began with a discussion of goals, practice, and feedback in athletics. More specifically, I had to use the sport I'm most familiar with: running. I explained that if I have a goal to run a mile in a certain time, I'm going to need feedback from my coach about how close I am to that goal.
Then I set up a situation where two runners have the same goal, say an 8 minute mile time, but they currently run different mile times, 10 and 9 minutes. I was so impressed by the way students naturally understood that not only would each runner need different amounts of practice, they would need different kinds of practice. While it is possible for them to reach their goals on the same day, it's not likely or necessary that they will.
Finally, I pointed out that often in school, the system does expect everyone to reach the same goal at the same time, when we give everyone the same test on the same day. Without going into all the details of standards based grading, I explained that my teaching philosophy allows for students to do different kinds of practice and reach goals at different times. What I care about is giving you the feedback to get you to our goals.
After all this they were quite open to a pre-assessment as a diagnostic tool, as a way of checking their current "running pace". Most of them found some areas of success and common areas of struggle with their classmates. We discussed their most confident and least confident responses, and I feel really good about moving forward with this information.
Hey! my car door dented instead of shattering or breaking. Is that a property of a metal?