Begins at the Beginning
by Kathie F. Nunley
cry for accountability is louder than ever. Across this country
communities, districts, and states are asking for more accountability
in schools. States want districts to prove their validity in quantitative
ways. Year-end state mandated exams are becoming the rule rather
than the exception. Administrators and teachers are feeling increased
pressure to bring test scores up and failure rates down. The classroom
teacher is faced with the dilemma of teaching the curriculum without
teaching the test per se. (Although teaching the test is not a
problem, as long as the test is valid and reliable - but that's
a separate article.) One of the biggest problems with the accountability
cry is that it tends to focus down to the teacher, and then stops
for learning needs to go one step further - to the student. Amazingly,
students have never been held accountable for day to day learning.
End of unit tests or chapter tests have implied accountability,
but as most classroom teachers can attest, that is a wild assumption.
Students do not see the relationship between learning activities
and accountable learning.
a student to defend a homework assignment and then sit back and
watch their shock! Why, it has never occurred to them that they
were supposed to have learned from the assignment. They thought
they were just supposed to "do" it.
Here's a typical first time oral defense of homework:
Teacher: So tell me Sarah, what were some of the experiments which
lead to the discovery of the double helix structure?
Teacher: The homework from last night...I see here you did answer
that question. I believe it was the first question in the section
- what research helped lead Watson and Crick to their model of
Sarah: I don't know...I just wrote it down.
Teacher: Do you remember anything about what you wrote?
No, I was just trying to get it done.
Teacher: Well tell me something, anything, that you learned from
Well, I don't know...but I did it, doesn't that count?
Unfortunately, no one should be surprised by a conversation such
as above. Somehow, in public education, the relationship between
class and home activities and learning has not be clarified to
students. Amazingly, as silly as it sounds, students do not know
that are supposed to learn from daily schoolwork. They have become
accustomed to getting credit for "doing" assignments with no accountability,
so that is what they do.
All assignments in my classes require an oral defense. As people
who have followed my work know, I consider oral defense the cornerstone
to my teaching methodology. Accountability must begin at this
level. When students realize credit is not given if learning does
not occur, a paradigm shift begins. Their simple and innocent
response of "You mean I did all that for nothing?" opens up the
lines of communication about school, assignments and learning.
Because, let's be honest - if they learn nothing from the activity,
then it truly was done for nothing.
written in 2004, this article may be used in any nonprofit print
publication so long as it is used in its entirety including the
bottom author credit paragraph).
F. Nunley is an educational psychologist, author, researcher and
speaker living in southern New Hampshire. Developer of the Layered
Curriculum® method of instruction, Dr. Nunley has authored
several books and articles on teaching in mixed-ability classrooms
and other problems facing today's teachers. Full references
and additional teaching and parental tips are available at: http://Help4Teachers.com
Kathie (at) brains.org