Sunday, January 19, 2014

Assessment and Better Running Times

Thanks to the encouragement of a former colleague, Gavin Kelly, I took up running about 5 years ago and have enjoyed the many benefits to my physical and mental health because of that regimen.  About three years ago I ran my first Half Marathon and ran a respectable 1:57.  Being somewhat competitive and goal oriented, I set out to improve my time through training.  One of the tools I used was an app that could track my pace and speed as I ran.  When I first used this tool, it would blurt out my pace every mile as I ran and I quickly realized that this was completely destroying my running.  I was over emphasizing speed, enjoying my runs less, and losing some enthusiasm for running.  

Therefore I would turn off the alerts and simply run my prescribed distance and only check the rate at the end of a run.  The end result.  Three years later, I have continued to train regularly (approximately 3 times a week) and focused on the deliberate practice of short, fast runs during the week and long, slow runs on the weekend and my most recent Half Marathon time was right around 1:50.  

This got me thinking about the benefits and detriments of assessment during times of deliberate practice and the discussion that Doug Reeves started on antecedents of excellence in his book The Daily Disciplines of Leadership.  I'm more convinced now that when students are engaged in purposeful deliberate practice in many academic areas, assessment might actually get in the way of the usefulness of that deliberate practice.    When I ran, I DID have certain mile or time goals in mind, but I rarely focused on the speed and rate of my running.  

Once I got to the race, however, I turned that reminder back on and was able to modify my pace as I ran to reach my target race goal.  However, I was only able to monitor and adjust my rate because I had put in so many hours of relaxed running with less concern for time.   I think students will have more confidence and success on their summative assessments if they have logged in the prerequisite practice without the overemphasis on scoring and perfection.  My take away is that we need to be thoughtful and intentional about what we measure in students' deliberate practice so as to encourage the type of practice that will benefit their learning goals and maintain their interest and engagement in the work. 

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