Zero – Hero

News outlets across Canada have been cycling through the story of the Edmonton, Alberta high school science teacher who was suspended, supposedly because he was in violation of the district’s ‘no-zero’ policy. These stories almost always whip up the fervor and saliva-rich rantings of that element of society who advance the canon that everything we do now is ‘just plain wrong’!

As Alfie Kohn pointed out in his essay, Feel-Bad Education, there is an unfounded belief out there that children are lazy, unmotivated dullards who require a myriad Dickensian responses to make them learn: “More! You want more!

Without knowing him (and I apologize if I offend) but my feeling is that our colleague in Edmonton is no more a hero, as some have said, than a doctor who refuses to treat his patients- and then blames them for not getting better.

Public schools are places where adults who have been trained in child development, pedagogy and curriculum are given the job of helping children to learn. The teachers who reflect upon their practices, strive to adapt and grow and learn along with their students- they are the heroes. And we have many more of those teachers than we know- lets make sure we blog and tweet about them.

  1. June 2, 2012 at 12:43 pm

    It is my hope that all pre-service teachers do study and learn about child development, psychology, and motivation theories. I think it would be important for high school teachers too. Is this the case? Is it consistent and occurring in education programs more now?

    It has been interesting how one headline has made this a hot topic across the provinces (at least in my twitter stream). Yet, I have been reading great stuff on blogs about assessment practices and authentic ways to support learning for a couple of years now…

    Good response, Brian.

  2. Royan Lee
    June 3, 2012 at 12:14 pm

    I like what @erinneo said about this on twitter: “The problem isn’t the zeros, [it’s] the acceptance that numbers have anything to do with learning.”

  3. June 3, 2012 at 2:49 pm

    The metaphor of a doctor is not analagous to this situation, as assessment for marks (summative) is something done after treatment, after the teacher has treated his students with lectures, guided his students through problems, given space for student-generated projects.

    If we tried to extend the doctor metaphor: Following treatment and guidance from our doctor/teacher, our patient student refuses to participate in a series of tests which will reveal if the cancer has left the body, the body has beaten the malaria, that the student has mastered the material.

    The teacher/doctors is left unsure whether his treatment/teaching was effective.

    In Edgar Schmidt’s open letter he states:

    “Our approach to missed assignments is to work with each student to find out the reason they did not turn in an assignment. Once a teacher finds out the reason, they work with the student to come up with a solution to address the situation. They agree to a plan to turn in future assignments and the teacher holds the student accountable.”

    As a teacher that is what I do, what all good teachers should do. However there will still be some students who for whatever reason, discovered or not, are unable or unwilling. What to do? If they have not demonstrated mastery of a subject, what happens?

    That students need to be coerced with zeros is misguided, though it seems that no-zero policy is perhaps levelled at teachers who will not bend and flex for students, seek to understand the obstacles in students way, and instead opt for a simple zero.

    However I have yet to hear a convincing justification of what no-zero assessors do with student work, that is not submitted regardless of the best caring work of a teacher. A blanket no-zero seems almost as inflexible as the previous alternative.

  4. June 4, 2012 at 12:42 am

    When teachers discuss zero/no-zero policies, this is in reference typically to assignments, tests throughout the year, no? Ultimately at the conclusion of the year, a student, if they have not demonstrated mastery of a given subject or skills will receive the “0”/”Not Mastered,” correct?

    On a different tack, I do not think the analogy of a doctor is entirely analogous. What might be more accurate is a teacher/doctor who treats his patient/student however when he requests that his patient/student take several tests to determine whether the medicine/program of study has been successful, the student/patient is either unable or unwilling to do so.

  5. June 5, 2012 at 9:02 pm

    The traditional practice of quizzes, tests or assignments is to assign a number value and weight to each one then calculate the mean to get a mark. So a missed test or assignment is weighted as a 0 against the sum of marks.

    Assessment for learning replaces this process of assigning numbers with descriptive feedback on what needs to be done to increase understanding or improve the quality of the task. This feedback loop continues until the end of unit/term/semester where the usual culminating tasks (assignments, presentations, exams, etc…) can be given to determine what has been learned.

    The research on this practice is wholly conclusive, it results in much higher standards of success for all learners (and especially those with learning or socio-economic risk factors). Teachers who refuse to incorporate Assessment for Learning into their practice are, in my opinion, engaging in professional malpractice.

    As for my doctor analogy; a doctor examines and carries out tests to form a diagnosis and a plan of treatment and shares this with the patient as feedback. The patient then acts upon the feedback while the doctor monitors (assess) progress until their is a resolution~ a cure or death (which I guess would be a zero). Might not be totally analogous, but it was Saturday morning and I was getting really ticked off that teachers were calling this guy a hero.
    Thanks for the response Nathan, write back anytime:)

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