My colleague Bret has started a pedagogical discussion group. We meet roughly every other week to read some literature regarding pedagogy. This group’s formation is partially due to working on creating a new general education curriculum last year. A number of us appreciated reading the literature last year and wanted to continue in the process.

This week we met and read Black and William’s paper “Inside the Black Box: Raising Standards Through Classroom Assessment.” One particular idea I wanted to discuss from this paper was that a teacher should adjust the teaching and learning based on formative assessment results. I appreciate and agree with this idea. If I am finding that my class requires more time on a topic, needs a refresher on something, or they just need a break then I should provide that for them. I reflected on my own teaching and thought that I did not engage in this idea. For example, today in probability and statistics we talked about the probability model that describes the distribution of a sampling proportion. Now, we didn’t talk about that today because I deemed the class was ready. We talked about it because that was my plan. The plan was made this summer and I have been sticking to it. We need to cover this material so I am covering it. This troubled me.

What happened in class today? We began as we always do, discussing their daily homework problems that they do to prepare for the class day. I found, though, that they were being overwhelmed with the number of probability distributions they have been hit with lately. We have talked about Bernoulli trials, the geometric model, the binomial model, the normal model, using the normal model to approximate the binomial model, and now sampling distribution models. They were having trouble distinguishing between the models, when to use the models, what we need to use the models, etc. In a moment of clarity I decided to jettison the work I was planning to have them do in class today. Instead, I gave an impromptu mini-lecture summarizing all of the different models, when we use them, what we need in order to use them, essentially everything related to each model. In a sense, I was doing what Black and William were saying that I should do. I am happy that I was able and willing to respond to the needs of my students and provide what (I hope) they needed most. We will see how this plays out and whether it made a difference in their understanding.