A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Friday, February 24, 2006

Which is more important: process versus product

The discussion over the post on innumeracy and memorization got me started thinking, and so I will throw it out to you all, hoping a few people might de-lurk:

k mentioned that students can get partial points on the math section of the NCLB-mandated tests in her state if they demonstrate using the correct processes:
My classmates and I were surprised to learn that, on our state's high stakes do or die test, a student can have the wrong answer but get more points, because they labeled, graphed and explained, than the student with the right answer who didn't jump through all the hoops.
The very next week one of our school districts announced a huge immediate cut in programs and technology, followed by a staffing cut next year. Why? Because the budget contained an error to the tune of millions of dollars.
Now, I'm sure, that the budget report was neat, tidy, with graphs, labels and explanations...
but, darn it, that wrong answer doesn't seem to be getting the school district many points with parents and staff.

graycie said this:
The reflection of your post in the world of reading is looking at the first letter of a word and then just sorta guessing at it. In literature it's the Disney-fication of everything. Aaargh.

I have heard many involved in education trumpet this emphasis of process over product. Think Frank Lloyd Wright here: beautiful designs, exquisite buildings-- which often leaked like a sieve and needed major repair work almost constantly because he seemed to skimp on the boring engineering side of the job.

Perhaps this gets back to our emphasis on style over substance; yeah, yeah, human nature, right? But isn't part of education about overcoming human nature for the better?

So should we reward process over product? Is it good to know how to do something even if you can't do it?

An open thread for you.



At 2/24/06, 11:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

MORE points for process vs. product?? How about _some_ points for process? Showing your work is important, but (as the with the budget example) the right answer really does matter -- especially in the "real world."

At 2/24/06, 6:03 PM, Blogger elementaryhistoryteacher said...

It's been awhile since I taught math but when I did the right answer was important, however, understanding the process/procedure to follow in order to arrive at the answer was also important. I usually gave some points for the right processes, but a wrong answer was a wrong answer. I could not monitor student growth/understanding without seeing their work. The math teachers on my team really encourage students to work out each problem. We want it to be an automatic habit with them so that they will work out every problem on those nasty standardized tests. So....to finally answer your question...process is more important since you have to know the process to arrive at the correct answer, but if the product is wrong then it's wrong.

At 2/25/06, 8:17 AM, Anonymous Marcia said...

I had trouble with this when I was doing advanced high school math. Often I would arrive at the right answer but use a different method than everyone else. Consequently, I never got full marks on the test because either I skipped steps and therefore didn't show all my work or I worked through the problem a different way.

I think there is merit to awarding points for both process and product but at the end of the day, a wrong answer is a wrong answer.

To go back to the architecture scenario, bridges fall down because of incorrect mathematic processes, which makes me wonder if the process is by definition incorrect if it doesn't result in the correct answer?

At 2/25/06, 6:06 PM, Anonymous Jess said...

Bravo, Marcia! I apologize in advance for the length of this comment; this particular issue hits home for me.

I have horrid lingering memories of a high school math teacher who emphasized process over product. To the point that everyone in the class had to use the same notebook paper, show the exact same lines of work (in the same order) and use the "approved" notation (variables had to be in script; everything else in print). Oh, and if a problem ran past the bottom of a page, we needed to tape another piece of paper onto the bottom and complete the problem, leading our homework to look like medieval scrolls of lore. We received more credit if all this stuff was correct and the answer was wrong, than if we had the wrong "notations" but the correct answer. Drove me nuts. Yes, he was a caricature of what we're discussing here, but it can and does get taken to the extreme.

As an aside, this particular teacher was famous in our school district for these reasons. He scarred many students for life, including me--I still remember being humiliated in front of the class after I had returned from surgery, for not following the "standard procedure" to hand in the work I had completed while out of school. He had been with the district forever and was firmly entrenched, so parent complaints fell on deaf ears. But I digress.

I learned less from this teacher than from any other. Sure, we all knew "how" to solve the problems because we had to know the process to get full credit. But. We never knew why we were solving them using these methods, or why this process worked or was inherently better than any other, or when this method of problem solving would be the best choice to use. There was never any parallel made to practical applications, and many of my fellow students really struggled on standardized tests and in subsequent math classes. My parents' outrage at this situation led them to ensure that we (my sister was stuck with this teacher too) knew the "whys," but for kids with less time and/or parents who were less involved, it was a really spirit-killing experience.

The way I think about it? Both process and product are important--for a time. Once a student demonstrates mastery of a process, that student should also get the right answers. Otherwise...what was the good in learning the process?

At 2/25/06, 6:56 PM, Blogger Laura(southernxyl) said...

My daughter's 7th grade pre-algebra teacher pushed process over product, but here is why: He was teaching them how to solve equations with variables using easy examples to start with. The smart kids could intuitively solve the equations without going through the process he was trying to teach them. But as the problems got more complex, they were unable to solve them intuitively and then had to catch up learning what the other kids had gotten from the beginning.

I remember telling my daughter that the teacher didn't really need her to tell him the answer to the problems - he knew them already - the point was for her to learn to work them in a way that would stand up as the work got harder.

Jess, your teacher was a whole 'nother ball of wax.

Bless you, Ms. Cornelius, for caring about your students.


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