Our interpretation of a student’s past performance can be an illusory, if we use the results of their performance as a judgment on all of the student’s future performances in that area. Take the contentious statement: “He is a level 2 student.” If you are pigeon-holing this student’s ability, then you are focusing on the illusory quality of results, probably due to a fixed mindset approach.

If you say, “He is a level 2 student,” and then search for ways to direct them towards competency, then you have seen the data in the correct light: evidence of what the child can currently do, independently. Past performance should inform instruction; we should adapt what we do in the next class based on how students did today. But, past performance should not be used to define and label the student in any sort of fixed or static way.

Again (as I noted in my last blog post on student behaviour), if we use “he is a level 2 student” in a fixed and static way, then it has ramifications for both the educator and the student. This sort of language imprisons the teacher in the perspective that no matter what they do they will not see improvement in the student. The educator will see no reason to try new methods or approaches to try to push the student towards understanding.

The student is also caught in the false imprisonment of the illusion. They begin to believe that they are incapable. Their attitude towards subjects where they are not making progress becomes mired in fixed mindset musings; “I am no good at math,” and “I hate reading,” become their mantra.

If we rely on one chance or method to evaluate a students learning then we are caught in the fly-bottle:

Another assumption Cooper asks us to reconsider is that, in the classroom, time is fixed and achievement is variable. You pass or fail on test day and that’s your only shot at success. But consider this: When you take your driver’s test, the level of achievement is fixed and time is variable. That is to say, you can take the test several times, each time learning something more as you go, but the standard that you must achieve is fixed. What if we applied this idea to teaching, learning and classroom assessment? http://www.eqao.com/eMagazine/2009/02/eMagArticle.aspx?Lang=E&ArticleID=04&ItemID=34

All these factors point to teachers providing or allowing for multiple and diverse opportunities for students to demonstrate their knowledge. For these reasons I always allowed students to redo or fix up projects.

How many times have we completed an evaluation and become disheartened when a particular student didn’t do well? “All my anecdotals pointed to their understanding,” we mutter to ourselves. The next day we assess the student orally and find that they do know their stuff. In the perfect classroom the student would have advocated for herself and told the teacher that they needed another venue to showcase their learning. Our role as teachers is to provide enough choice and student voice in our projects, tasks, evaluations to allow students to express their learning. If we don’t, then failure could be the facade of deep understanding.

Finally, if we are not careful, the success of a student can sometimes look like learning, when in fact they have just “glitched” the system, or in fact we have taught them how to glitch the system. The hallmark for this illusory learning is if students cannot apply their knowledge and understanding of a concept outside of the confines in which it was taught. As mentioned above, this is most often seen when we teach students a procedure (how to calculate the area of a circle, for example) but then cannot use this to then solve a problem a month later. Here we get students to stare at a sheet full circles with clearly defined radii and diameters. They look at the anchor chart, follow the steps and get a number, for which we – the teacher – give them a check mark. A month later, when starting a unit on volume of cylinders, we give them a problem where they have to find the area of the base of a cylinder, only to find that most of them struggle.