More Than a Feeling

I have much to say on this topic, but today I’ll give a summary.  Often, I find that teachers are quite sure that the lesson they are teaching has been quite successful in the past, so they are certain it will continue to work in the future.  I question them about how they found it successful and their answers usually become nebulous.  “I get such a great response from this.”  “They really learn the material.” “I enjoy teaching this.”

That’s all great, but how do they know it’s actually doing anything well?  Just because something feels right doesn’t mean that it is right.  If you really want to know that you are doing something right, you need to have data.  Yes, scientific data.  Something that is more reliable and verifiable than your gut.  I know, I know.  Only math people like math.  Well, unfortunately for you, you can’t really live in a bubble of your expertise and hope that you will do well.

In short, you must be able to prove that your students have shown improvement.  That does involve some sort of standardized, objective test.  Sorry.  I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but how else can you really know if your teaching methods are actually effective?  You’ve got to have more than a feeling.



  1. Scott Erb said,

    September 27, 2010 at 8:08 am

    At the college level we are trying to avoid assessment through standardized tests. Rather, we’re finding other ways to assess student outcomes (how well students achieve goals) and then use that to make changes in how we do things. For us, the end point of assessment is action, taking action on what we’ve learned. To be sure, we in higher education have resisted this for a long time, but the pressures that K-12 have been feeling for years are starting to touch us too. It’s a good thing — we should assess — but it’s meeting a lot of resistance.

  2. renaissanceguy said,

    September 28, 2010 at 7:49 am

    The best way is what Scott says. We should do a pre-test, then teach the material, and then test again. Then we can see if the method we used was successful.

    Then again, students in high school and college are responsible to learn the material no matter what the teacher does or doesn’t do. Granted, a good teacher using appropriate strategies is a beneficial thing, but it is up to the students in the long run.

  3. Scott Erb said,

    September 29, 2010 at 8:12 am

    Yes — I use grades less to evaluate and more to motivate. I’ve learned, for instance, that if a student does really poorly early on, they sort of give up on a course and slide through. I therefore have easy assignments early that cause them to stack up some points and see the course as a potential “A” or “B.” That keeps them in the course when the assignments get tough (and I let them know the early assignments are easier, so it’s not a trap). It’s their responsibility, but we can guide them along.

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