This month’s Edutopia magazine has a pretty comprehensive series on rethinking assessment written by Grace Rubenstein that picks up on my question here yesterday in some provocative ways. (Full disclosure: I sit on the national advisory board for Edutopia’s parent organization, the George Lucas Education Foundation.) It’s heartening to read passages like this:
“What we want to assess is how well prepared people are to learn new things in a nonsequestered environment where they have access to technology tools and social networks,” says Bransford. Compared to typical standardized tests, for which seeking new information would be considered cheating, he says this model is “way more motivating, much more interesting for students, and much more valid in terms of what people really need to do when they get out of school.”
That phrase “nonsequestered environment” really catches me. We don’t stay in classrooms all of our lives, do we? How do kids do when the curriculum isn’t delivered, the homework isn’t assigned, and the work is for real purposes? What will they do when they are faced with a question they don’t know the answer to? How will they work it? How will they tap into their networks, if they have them? How will they assess the information they get back and assess their own process?
That would be some amazingly important work to watch and evaluate, wouldn’t it?
Suzanne Wargo says
It would be fun to attack a learning project or problem like Survivor or the Amazing Race? Bet kids would love it.
Laura Gleisner says
That’s interesting you mentioned reality TV. I have been trying to explain what teaching using the 21st century skills would look like and I think of The Apprentice. Students should be given meaningful and relevant tasks to complete by working together, and using appropriate resources (technology, etc.) I think kids would be extremely motivated and it would make sense. I also do trainings on using a SMART Board and so many teachers complain that they are too expensive. In my mind, if your students want a SMART Board, that’s your project. How do we get a SMART Board for our classroom? They could give presentations and demonstrations to parent and community groups and ask for support. Students would have to learn how to use the board, create a presentation, present, ask to be a part of a meeting, etc. It goes on and on. Think of all of the skills they are using. And . . . what if they were actually able to get a board for their classroom? That’s a huge message to students. I get so excited about this I could go on and on.
Vanessa Svihla says
The one thing we do need to be clear on, however, when making analogies to reality TV shows, is that at the end of those shows, mostly the “students” have been “failed” along the way. We need to make sure this is not part of our model for learning- voting our least favorite or least adept students right out of the experience!
But your point is well taken- relevance is missing from so much of what goes on in the classroom!
>>We donâ€™t stay in classrooms all of our lives, do we?
Only teachers 🙂
I had a great conversation with students about this a couple of weeks ago about being able to function on their own, to find information, to judge value and ‘trustibility’. The analogy I used with the middle schoolers was…. let’s say you were walking down the street in a big city and you didn’t know where you were going, you can’t just stop in the middle of the street and raise your hand. That would look ridiculous (they laughed). I pointed out to them, that they were equally as ridiculous to think that I would just spoon feed them everything they needed to know, rather than help them to develop the skills to figure it out for themselves.
On the same note, I have them self-assess quite often, to which they want to know the why… and my new answer is that as they grow older there won’t be anyone running around handing out gold stars for good work. They will have to be the ones to know how to judge their best work from their mediocre and talk about why it happens one way or the other.
All of this is indicative of something I believe about my role as teacher. My goal for the students is to develop the skills necessary to function successfully without me. The whole ‘school’ thing is a fools errand if the students aren’t able to function outside the institution. I am in a continual process to try and incorporate more authentic means of helping students realize their own potential for future life endeavors. Some days are easier than others ;).
Scott Mooney says
I didn’t think we were allowed to teach the students to be metacognitive?!!?? How can you test that so that each student is easily compared against each other?
Great quote, Will, and great comment, Diana.
Is it possible to apply this type of thinking individually, right now? Can a teacher decide that this is going to be a guiding principle for his class and start going this direction?
The current culture seems stuck — teachers have trouble changing direction because of the test, and the test won’t change because…well, why shouldn’t the test change? : )
Dean Shareski says
Our school division has had a deep focus on assessment for a number of years. While I’m not an expert, I’ve come across some great stuff that I think needs attention.
The work of Michael Fullan in particular points to some very compelling stuff. For example, in his recent book, Breakthrough, he talks about a need to gain results more quickly. But not via direct instruction which, although does usually bring immediate results has proven to bring no long term gains.
“These programs [talking about programs like “Success for All” and others] do not believe in the power of teachers as learners or of students as thinkers and problem solvers. As such, they cannot achieve long-term breakthrough results….students do not become independent and when confronted with the new, they don’t know what to do about it.”
Earlier in the book he writes:
“It is about learning to learn, about becoming indepedent thinkers and learners. It’s about problem solving, teamwork, knowledge of the world, adaptability, and comfort in a global system of technologies, conflict, and complexity. It is about the joy of learning and the pleasure and productivity of using one’s learning in all facets of work and life pursuits.”
I’ve always thought that even our best assessments need to be looking at long term learning results. Why not test our students 2 years after they’ve learned something to see if they can apply it to new learning? To me that’s the true measure of learning…if it sticks and is transferable over time.
Love Edutopia. Unfortunately they have stopped sending me physical copies of their magazine, instead dropping electronic copies to my Yahoo. They seem to be ignoring my request for a physical copy. I’m lucky I can keep up on my blogs, much less read 2000 word feature articles while sitting at the computer. I’m as green as the next guy, but I need something to read on the commode. This is the second time George Lucas has shafted me (Phantom Menace being the first).
Pardon the superficial rant.
Everyone needs to check out http://detentionslip.org. Itâ€™s one of the leading sources for breaking crazy new in public schools. After seeing some of the stories, it makes sense that education is in the state that it is.
Or at least, just watch this…
It pretty much sums up everything we’ve been talking about. Just when I was getting outraged again, at least some humor can keep us all grounded.