Every Monday night I meet up with some friends to participate in a dart league. I have been going almost every week, during the school year, to decompress, have a friendly competition and enjoy what is sometimes a relaxing pub atmosphere for over ten years. During that time, I have slowly improved but have definitely plateaued as I watch new players come in a excel at an amazing speed.
This got me to thinking about how school works around assessment: without consistent, timely feedback, my darts improvement was non-existent. I could play for hours every week and still not improve (I liken this to practicing math problems from worksheets without guidance from a teacher). Any skill, talent or process needs time for reflection and guided practice to show any improvement. Giving students homework, pages of assignments or even what is sometimes called busy work just reinforces any misconceptions around whatever subject area they are working on. There is no improvement, just a continuous practice of mistakes. This is where I see the potential of formative assessment (aka, Assessment for Learning, personalised learning, 21st Century Learning or another pedagogically developed buzz word of the moment). Giving students opportunities to find where they can improve and the skills to develop appropriately is paramount.
This is also directly related to teacher improvement. To expect a teacher to step into a classroom once they have completed a one year program and be exceptional is not acceptable. Not allowing teachers to develop their skills and processes around strong pedagogical theories and practices (thinking back to university and the all the talk about praxis) is akin to my dart playing. Without a strong component of professional development, where teachers can identify areas of weaknesses and improve in professional learning teams or networks is a necessary, in my opinion, component of teacher improvement.
Coaching, in this instance, allows a teacher to work with another teacher and work on their practice together. If someone doesn’t tell me how to improve or where I am weak in my darts, I will continue to get three’s when I am aiming for triple 19’s. Lucky for me, though, I can hit a triple 19 by luck and occasionally win a game.