Assessment Parable The Purple-Fruit-Picking Parable Statureland is an island nation with one major industry: purple fruit. Since purple-fruit picking is essential to the welfare of the whole society, the Statureland schools’ basic curriculum is intended to train effective purple-fruit pickers. Because purple fruit grows only at the top of eight-foot trees, the most important and critical course within the curriculum has been Growing. All children are required to take Growing, and they are expected to complete six feet of growth – the minimum criterion for graduation as purple-fruit pickers and the average height of Staturelandians, based upon standardized growing tests. The course content of Growing includes, stretching, reaching, jumping, tip-toeing, and thinking tall. Each year, each child’s skill and abilities in growing are assessed, and each child assigned a grade. Those children who achieve average scores on the standardized growing tests are assigned B and C grades. Student’s who, through their commitment to growing, exceed expected levels, receive As. Slow growing students receive Fs and are regularly and publicly admonished for their lack of effort and inattention to the primary task. These latter children often develop poor self-images and antisocial behaviour that disrupts the school program and interferes with children who really want to grow. “This will never do!” said the people. “We must call a wise woman to consider our problem and tell us how to help the children grow better and faster and become happy purple fruit pickers.” So, a wise woman was sent for and she studied the problem. At last, she suggested two solutions: 1) Plant pink fruit trees that grow only five feet tall, so that even four-foot students may be successful pickers. 2) Provide ladders so that all students who wish to pick purple fruit can reach the tops of the trees. “No, no, no!” said the people. “This will never work. How can we then give grades if eight-foot trees are goals for some students and five-foot trees are goals for other students? How can it be fair to the naturally tall students if children on ladders can also stand six feet tall and reach the fruit?! However shall we give grades?” “Ah” said the wisewoman, “you can’t. You must decide whether you want to grade children or have fruit picked.” (from Teacher: Newsmagazine of the B.C. Teachers Federation. (Jan/Feb 1999). 11(4), p.6) Questions: 1. What does this story say to you about the role of assessment in schools? Teachers are too focused on how to assess students, and how to give them numerical or alphabetical grades, when in reality it is their work and process of arriving at their final product , whether it be English, Math, Social, etc. that is important. Not all students function in the same way, think in the same way, or want to go the same way in the future, and if we assess them in only one way we are turning them into robots. One size does not fit all in education, and students should have a chance to express themselves in the way they feel confident, where their strengths are, and be able to work on their weaknesses in a safe environment. Numerical grades do not help students, other than to compete with themselves and each other, whereas if you give concrete feedback to students, they can internalize this and figure out where they are actually struggling, and maybe what they can do to improve next time. Not all students have the same goals in life, and in this parable the school is only out to make successful fruit pickers. What happens to those students who are not interested in becoming fruit pickers and may want to take a different path in life? They have no opportunities to experience anything else in their schooling, and are being assessed on knowledge they do not value. This occurs in schools, making timetables so full of mandatory classes, and this limits the opportunities for electives where students get to actually pick what they want to learn. If students are genuinely interested in something, their assessments are going to be much higher and better grades, because the student is actually taking part in his/her learning. The wisewoman in this parable suggests planting smaller trees or else adding ladders for the shorter students to use, so they have an opportunity to succeed just like the others. This is a great analogy, as teachers need to focus on differentiating assignments, lessons, projects, etc for students who may be having difficulty within the classroom. There is always going to be the courses that are mandatory, so why not help those students struggle, and help them succeed? Through figuring out what works for them, the student has an opportunity to succeed, which will benefit the student, the teacher, the school and society as a whole. What is the point of failing someone, when there is only one mould that all students must fit? Obviously all students will not fit into this mould, so we need to figure out ways to rearrange or stretch that mould to fit all students in, and this will allow all students to succeed! 2. How might you relate this story to your own experiences in teaching and learning mathematics? Mathematics is a course that is required in order to graduate in the majority of high schools across the world. It is an important facet in life, as every day you will use some form of mathematics, but not all students are going to use calculus, the number theory, etc. Through differentiating lessons, bringing in a more real world focus on where mathematics is used, inquiry based teaching and learning, etc students will have the chance to see that math is actually important and that may reinforce students desire to learn. Math is never going to go away, so we need to inspire students to want to learn and help them by whatever means necessary. Not all students are going to be great at math, desire to learn it, or feel that it is important. We can help students by bringing in the “ladders” and finding new and innovative ways to help students succeed. We need to get rid of the assessment and grading focus of school, and break it down to the learning part. It is the learning that is important, and this is what we need to get students, staff, and the community to realize. In my pre-internship experience, we had a student with Aspergers Syndrome. He had no desire to focus on math, the assignments seemed way to long for him and he dreaded doing them. He always needed someone standing near him so that he could focus and would actually do his work. My partner and I realized this, so instead of giving him the textbook questions, we gave him a one page handout that had questions on it that he had to do as his assignment. The questions were basically ones right out of the textbook, but he did not know this, and to him it seemed shorter, much more organized and a task he could tackle. By doing this extra work as a teacher, he would come to school the next day with his homework complete, and excited to tell us that his homework was done and he understood what he was doing! Because the textbook questions daunted him, as it seemed way too long, we were able to find something he was comfortable with, and then when he was finished, see what he was understanding and what he still needed more work on. This then reflected into his quizzes and exams. There is no point in scaring him, so we did some differentiation and he realized he was able to succeed!
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