Mistakes as a Teaching Tool: What is EVOluation?

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By Pierre Poulin  
Teacher, École Wilfrid-Bastien (CSS de la Pointe-de-l’Île) 
Lecturer at Université d’Ottawa, Université de Sherbrooke and Université du Québec en Outaouais 

More than 90% of students in classrooms are video game enthusiasts (Toppo, 2015), and they are therefore accustomed to persevering to overcome increasingly complex levels. Moreover, younger teachers are more likely to understand the mechanisms associated with video games, being seasoned players themselves, sometimes even die-hard gamers.

Once this observation has been made, how can we manage to reproduce an environment of risk-taking, boldness and defiance when faced with learning challenges within the classroom itself? Wouldn’t it be ideal to bring this playful metacognition into students’ daily lives and in all subjects? 

It is possible. Now let’s take a look at how to implement such a climate.

It’s important to understand from the outset that autonomy and success are the basis in triggering a sequence of motivation and commitment (Connell and Wellborn, 1991). This is expressed not only in video games, but also in a classroom context. This is why establishing a student evaluation system that gives them a chance to pick themselves up and do even better (like video games) can be a promising and effective avenue.

In practical terms, this system is similar to that of video games since it involves progression to higher levels and the possibility of earning additional “life points”.  

The Wilfrid-Bastien school’s experience has proven that the system works, as long as the decision to improve comes from the student themself, either as a result of latent self-regulation or, on occasion, peer or parental pressure. This system, which is called EVOluation (a term formed from the words evaluation and evolution), is presented to parents at the beginning of each school year to ensure that they understand and adhere to the approach.

The attached diagram helps to understand how an EVOluate system is deployed (Miller, 2019).

Student EVOluation

5A+ = 5 = 95 XP = rarely seen success
Outstanding performance: you understand the 7 factors of the learning and success protocol. You can help others.
4A = 4 = 85 XP = great success of the recall and sharing
You can offer help because you meet the 7 factors of the learning and success protocol.
3B = 3 = 75 XP = successful recall and information sharing!
You meet the 7 factors of the learning and success protocol.
2C = 2 = 65 XP = incomplete recall and sharing: requires help and modelling
You are entitled to 12 attempts before the final “EVOluation”. Respects the 7 factors of the learning and success protocol.
1X = 1 = 55 XP = insufficient recall or sharing: start again with modelling
You are allowed to redo AFTER reflecting on the why and when of failure. The student is entitled to benefit from the Temporal Convector clause once a month and can accumulate ten per year.

As researchers Ackoff and Greenberg pointed out in 2008, “if learning were the objective of schools, they would repeat examinations—after they have been given the first time—to see to what extent mistakes previously made have been corrected.”

A Description of EVOluation

The students’ most important or significant work is evaluated using an EVOluation scale ranging between 1 and 5. Each of the levels is associated with a percentage linked to the student’s report card. Let’s illustrate this with an example:

During a verb conjugation exercise, a student performs the work too quickly without obtaining the previously established success rate. The teacher then gives a mark of 1 out of 5. This mark corresponds to 50% and can be justified by short, specific comments that are conveyed verbally at that time. For the same work, a student can get a 2 or a 3. A 3 is always the desired mark, but the student must earn it. So, faced with a mark of 1 or 2, the student is indirectly forced to correct themself when the parents collaborate and the signs of success are clear.

Improvement will not come automatically from the student and may take a few days or even weeks to manifest itself. The teacher takes this opportunity to offer a series of lessons about how to develop a better result. It is at this stage that they agree to repeat themselves in exchange for the student’s genuine commitment to do better. Their feedback must be as constructive as possible, giving students the means to successfully redo the task with a change in results.  

The teacher never changes the grade until requested by the student. And unless there is a tight deadline at the end of the semester, the student is never refused the right to retake. On the other hand, the result for a student who doesn’t work to improve will not change.

An Observation Grid

This grid will only work well if parents have access to a real-time report card, whose elements correspond exactly to the diagram shared above, i.e. a grid upon which every school task submitted falls into one of the various colours.

0 = Work in progress 1 = Not completed 2 = Incomplete 3 = Successful 4 = Very successful 5 = Amazing!

This method of EVOluating is supported in particular by colleagues in the same grade as well as by the school’s principal, Isabelle Massé. Also, one of the books mentioned in this article, A Repair Kit for Grading: Fifteen Fixes for Broken Grade (O’Connor, 2012) circulated through the hands of school principals not so long ago, and she was the one who introduced it to the staff.

It’s Your Turn!

EVOluation provides undeniable advantages and leads to a spectacular increase in willpower in our environment. Little by little, shy students take risks, show boldness and defiance in the face of academic challenges within the classroom itself. Parents consult the grid each week and with their child, they discuss the means to tackle unsuccessful tasks. They end up in a household dynamic where they no longer need to push their child as much to finish their homework or lessons.

Highly motivated students continually seek to help others by providing peer support, as this is the only way to get “a blue” (4 out of 5). In other words, autonomy develops at high speed on solid and recurring foundations. There are no more unpleasant surprises and, as in a video game, the student thus gets a real sense of their strengths and weaknesses. All students at all levels benefit.

Students will always ask how to get a “purple” (5 out of 5). However, the effort required to get this score is daunting. For example, a student who repeats a task 12 times (this is the limit) to improve a task may receive this distinction, on occasion. That said, a very weak student, who has the fortitude to recover so much ground, deserves the “purple” rating as much as a student who masters the task easily. There’s no difference between their efforts, and what a wonderful model this can become for the group! In these cases, the “purple” is deserved, about one per term, because it’s very rare for the students to require 

12 attempts. In a video game, however, it’s quite the opposite, and redoing work is no longer reserved only for students experiencing difficulty.

Whether in elementary or high school, or even in college or university, this EVOluation system deserves our attention. Any teacher in the field will obviously know how to adapt this protocol according to their level. If docimology, the science that studies the various means of testing knowledge, is of interest to those in the field, EVOluation is infinitely much more than a simple calculation of averages, percentages, medians or percentiles.

Références :

  • Draghici, A. D. (2002). L’erreur, un outil pour enseigner. Les stratégies d’enseignement au collège et à l’université.
  • Toppo, G. (2015). The game believes in you: How digital play can make our kids smarter. St. Martin’s Press. 
  • Connell, J.P. et Wellborn, J. G. (1991). Competence, autonomy and relatedness: A motivational analysis of self-system processes. Dans M. R. Gunnar et L. A. Sroute (Eds.), Self processes and development (p. 43-77). Laurence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
  • Brault-Labbé, A. et al. (2017). Théorie de l’autodétermination et modèle multimodal d’engagement : un pairage prometteur pour mieux comprendre les liens entre motivation et engagement scolaires chez des étudiants universitaires. Revue européenne de psychologie appliquée 68, 23-34.
  • Miller, A. (2019). L’«évoluation» : fini les notes, maintenant on apprend! École branchée
  • “If learning were the objective of schools, they would repeat examinations—after they have been given the first time—to see to what extent mistakes previously made have been corrected”.  Ackoff, R. et Greenberg, D. (2008). Turning learning right side up: Putting education back on track. Wharton School Publishing. P.7.
  • O’Connor, K. (2012). A Repair Kit for Grading: Fifteen Fixes for Broken Grade, Pearson/ERPI.


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