Mar 2, 2012

Am I Sure?

A student asked me, “Are you sure?”

I said, “Of course not, where is the fun in that?”

As we undergo this shift from information providers to supporters of learning, teachers have to first make the decision to be okay with not being sure.

“Where is this going?” “I hope it is going towards this final product, but I’m not sure.” This underlines the need to move our teaching (whatever that means) and our assessment towards process and away from product.


This is partly what scares me about standardized testing and those who use the “data” that it provides.

Firstly, it is a product. At the end of the day, it is the end of learning, because no feedback that comes from a standardized test will perpetuate more learning. When a student finds out on a sheet of paper mailed to them, they passed. The learning opportunity has passed them by. So, we have to acknowledge, it has nothing to do with learning.

Secondly, it is a synthetic product. It doesn’t come out of authentic practice. It is, by its nature, phony.

Thirdly, the only process that will ensure “success” is to modify learning to underline the needs of the product. Teach to the test. Too many schools are making strides on the OSSLT because of focused work with students on how to “jump through hoops”.

Finally, and most critically, the data imbues a sense of absolute. We, the public, the politicians, the administrators and teachers have allowed us to believe that there is a way to be sure. We’ve allowed the business interests of testing to convince us enough (I realize many people recognize the uselessness of them, though we are still giving into them) that they have “the” answer.


A key component to critical thinking that I emphasize over and over with my students is the ability for a critical thinker to accept ambiguity. Accept the fact that there may not be an answer.

So, am I sure of anything?


But, that doesn’t stop me from trying to move forward.

1 Comment

  • I am sure this is a great post. 🙂

    Not because a sophisticated algorithm has told me so, but because I believe that it represents an essential attitude of a “21st Century Learner”. As knowledge advances exponentially, how can we ever expect to arrive at a place where we can confidently say we have considered all possible information (or ‘data’) to arrive at a conclusion?
    Ambiguity in this context just means we are comfortable with what we know so far and I would suggest that we are then open to what we have yet to discover.

    Perhaps a follow up post on open-mindedness or a series on the “Top Ten Essential Characteristics of Ambiguous Learning” are in order.

    Btw, that second suggestion was sarcastic… 🙂

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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