## Mistakes I Made Creating a Skills Checklist

31 Dec

I made some rookie mistakes with my Algebra 2 skills checklist in semester one this year.  I have invented a word to describe each problem.

## Hyperseparation

In my enthusiasm for separating skills, I gave determinants of 2×2 matrices and determinants of 3×3 matrices each their own spot on the list.  They should have been combined.  I also separated multiplication of polynomials from their division and even, astonishing in the euphoric clarity of hindsight, addition of matrices from their subtraction.  This overzealous separation led to inflated grades (students got a 5/5 on matrix addition, matrix subtraction, both kinds of matrix multiplication, AND twice for finding determinants) and tests that felt kind of… stupid.

## Unrampability

A more subtle mistake: some skills on the checklist did not have discernible differences between intro-level problems and master-level problems.  For instance, an intro simplification test might look like “3x+2p-x+2x,” and a master might look like “3x+2p-x+2x-p+2p+r,” but for some students it felt silly to bother giving the intro level test first.  If a student can calculate “3+2+8+9,” do you really need to check to make sure they can calculate “3+2+8+9+1?”  In contrast, my favorite skills had some fundamental difference between the intro level and master level tests.  For example, the “dividing polynomials” intro test asked for a division that would have no remainder, and the master test involved remainders.  This was nice because a student could pass the class with a basic understanding of the concept, but would need a more advanced understanding before getting the 100%.

I did not have an effective way to deliver master-level tests to the students who wanted them.  Early in the year I promised that students would be able to attempt a master-level test on any skill once per day, and early in the year this worked great.  Late in the year, when two thirds of my students wanted six tests a day, it was harder.  I need a better system.  Luckily, this won’t be a problem again until the end of this semester, so I’ll start thinking about it then.  ;)

So, now the task is to create the lists for next semester (my school doesn’t start until January 10!), hoping to avoid these problems and keep the amazing benefits I got from the system last semester.  Stay tuned!

1. January 1, 2010 at 11:08 pm

I’m interested in how you created your lists in the beginning. This is something I need to do before next year and I need all the help I can get!

2. January 2, 2010 at 7:40 am

It was very difficult. I’m working on the list for next semester, and I’ll post a writeup of my process here. Check back in a week!

3. January 6, 2010 at 11:39 pm

This is basically a word-for-word rewrite of a post I never wrote. You put the costs and benefits of a first-year (or first-few-years) implementation of concept=based assessment precisely. The only thing I’d add is how much fun it is to tweak the concept list, connecting in a progressively more meaningful way to the question “what is math?”

4. January 17, 2010 at 2:47 pm

I’m interested in including the students more in this list, if possible. At the end of a grading period, could kids add skills or subtract skills for the next class?

To follow up on this post, I finally published my actual skills lists at http://larkolicio.us/blog/?p=135

5. February 23, 2010 at 11:01 pm

I recently started following your site and I love that you are sharing so many of your successes and frustrations with all of us other math teachers.

I caught a glimpse of your grading and testing in this post. (Even though I was intrigued by all of it) This really caught my eye.

You mentioned “intro tests” and “mastery tests”… I am interested how you do your testing system. I am exploring ways to improve my grading.

I have a focus on grading for learning and grading by objective(skill is how you are referring). I would love to hear about your policy.

Thanks.

6. February 24, 2010 at 8:51 am

Hi Jeny; thanks for commenting. I wrote a more thorough description of my assessment system at http://larkolicio.us/blog/?p=3 . Let me know if you have any questions about it!

7. January 6, 2011 at 10:26 pm

[...] — it actually got worse since my first draft.  The list was actually worse before; these guidelines helped me cut it back.  I’m telling myself that the level 2 skills will repeat in each [...]