Sunday, January 24, 2010

In defense of skills sheets

In my last post I wrote about why I prefer topics to skills. On Friday, my favorite math teacher very proudly shows me her skill sheet she just created for her pre-algebra class. Because I'm ever-so-subtle, I've been sending her example skills sheets from The Two Dans. (which, coincidentally, is the name of the show NBC is sticking in the Leno timeslot)

I loved the skills sheet.

Last time, I came out in favor of topics. I love me some Big Ideas and I think topics are the best way to do that. Why did I love her skills sheet?

My favorite math teacher created a list of 15 skills that all of her students will need in order to be successful in her class and next year in Algebra. They're core skills. Things like multiplication tables and adding and subtracting fractions. When they get 100% right they put a sticker on a wall chart and they're done with that skill. She's also added a time component. The test is four minutes. Her argument is that these are skills that should be automatic so time is important. Generally, I'm not in favor of time limits because it's introducing a confounding variable but I can see her point and give her the benefit of the doubt on this one.

In this case a topic wouldn't make sense. There really isn't a Big Idea here. It's just a way for her and for her students to keep track of what has been mastered and what needs to be improved. It easily differentiates and students aren't punished if they pass the 15th time instead of the first.

So skills sheets really are just that. A sheet for skills. If you want to connect them to something more meaningful, what David Perkins calls Playing The Whole Game, topics are the way to go.

p.s. - I'm glad she doesn't read this blog. Otherwise, she'd have been pretty pissed at me for pressing her to create a skills sheet for the last two years and then writing a whole post about why I don't like them.

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