Geoff Tennant - Promoting access to mathematics for all
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9/3/14: inputs and outputs

I have come across a number of schools in the world in which it is normal - indeed, school policy- for homework to be given both an attainment and also an effort grade.  This has always struck me as being somewhat odd. An essay may be very long - and therefore show effort at least in one sense - but be poor.  But if somebody really is not understanding what is going on - and, alas, this happens far too often in mathematics - then the effort in trying to make some headway may not be apparent from what gets written in the exercise book.  So wouldn't it make more sense for the child to be telling the teacher how much effort they put in?  And also, whilst I've never had this conversation with youngsters directly, I'm told that the 'holy grail' of a mark is high attainment and low effort - which, again in mathematics, does make sense, the best solutions to any given problem are the shortest!

Meanwhile, one of the projects I've been involved with recently has been analysing statistics from across East Africa, particularly on attainment in mathematics.  What one frequently finds is large amounts of data on input measures - number of teachers, amount spent per child, number of textbooks, number of orphans, amount teachers get paid - but very little on output measures, which include things such as attainment in public examinations, what pupils do on leaving the school, results of satisfaction surveys amongst pupils and parents, this kind of thing.

It would seem that it is all too easy to assume that if effort is put in, if the intention is to do something, if the input measures are right, then the outputs must be fine - often against very clear evidence that this is not the case.  Recently we had a meeting across different University campuses in different parts of the world through free software called WebEx.  All preparations had been done, ie. all input measures were fine, but when the time came it was impossible to hear what was being said.  What matters here ultimately are the output measures, not the input measures!

If what I'm writing here is striking a chord I'd love to hear from you, either through the comments to this blog or through private message.  I'm not quite sure where I'm heading on this, I suppose I'm searching for the wisdom, as a teacher, to encourage and applaud the input whilst maintaining the need for good output at the end of the day.  This blog post has been a long time in coming, now that I've put it in writing it seems a bit rambling, I hope particularly regular readers of this blog don't mind too much.

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