“Often children –and adults– need external incentives to take the first steps in an activity that requires a difficult restructuring of attention. … But once the interaction starts to provide feedback to the person’s skills, it usually begins to be intrinsically rewarding.” - Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book Flow.
And so it exists, that place in between. The fulcrum point of getting learning going and maintaining momentum.
We need to be in pursuit of the perfect balance between externally incentivizing learning at the beginning, without making the external reward the only reason to persist, while creating a system to remove the external incentive when a student’s skills have made learning intrinsically rewarding.
Presumably, every student is different. Every student reaches that place of equilibrium at a different time. The seesaw of their motivation finds that perfect place at a different time depending on parental influence, ideas of achievement, use of punishment, etc.
I’ve been a strong proponent for getting rid of grades in school. I still think this is important. Marks are inauthentic. However, Csikszentmihalyi has got me thinking what external incentives should/could replace grades to get the learning started.
Are there authentic incentives that we can harness in schools? Views on YouTube, likes of Facebook? I don’t know, but maybe we need to spend more time thinking about these things.
Last Thursday, I had the privilege of presenting my thoughts and ideas at the ECOO Conference 2012. My presentation was geared around my assessment and evaluation methods and madness.
I was proud to speak in front of such an intelligent, engaged audience who asked so many great questions and provided some varied perspectives. I have embedded below the slides from my presentation.
The conference moved this year from one where the tool was the principal focus to the pedagogical shift taking shape in education. Obviously, I like this move. I think too often we spend time worrying about the what and how of teaching, and too little time is spent wrestling with the why. This conference enabled that wrestling.
However, it also enabled something else for me, it forced me to focus my thinking around assessment, which ironically I spoke about. I realized, with more clarity than I had before, that assessment is right now the linchpin to the shift in education.
John Seely Brown, Michael Fullan, and even Nora Young, all addressed the shift in instruction, but none of them offered the insight into the shift in assessment and I fear that is underlooked.
Frankly, assessment and evaluation may be the structure of the system that slows down change the most.
I see it as there are two main cogs in education, instruction and assessment, and while instruction is slowly coming to life, assessment is still in a state of disrepair. It’s rusted over and will take some serious elbow grease to get it moving again.
And we can’t disregard it.
We’ve made cosmetic changes to evaluation, however, at the end of the day will universities and colleges accept our students if they haven’t jumped through the hoops of GPAs and averages. What then becomes of the innovation, creative problem solving, and imagination?
The ECOO experience has focused in my interest in assessment and evaluation, it has left me with more questions than answers and has enabled me to connect with other educators asking those same questions. I can’t wait to see where this takes me.
I like the Growing Success document.
In fact, this document demonstrates a trust in teachers that is often not present in the political rhetoric of education. The document outlines an ideal that teachers are able to assess and evaluate according to their best understanding of the needs and skills of their students.
Two words stand out:
These two words are used repeatedly throughout the document. They rely on a teacher’s ability to take consideration of student demonstrations, be it in product, process, conversations or observations. They also rely on a teacher’s ability to interpret the evidence as gathered by the teacher.
The word most glaringly absent from the document is calculate. The MoE has done away with the notion that a grade, as found on a report card, is a straight calculation of marks. I believe that this is a telling sign that education is slowly, albeit too slowly, systematically moving to a more individualized, student-centred learning environment.
It is now our job to start effectively using this responsibility and communicating the way in which we are looking for success.
This is scary for teachers. Calculating leaves no room for error. Interpretation and consideration can be misused and we’re going to need to defend it and that’s worrisome. I get that. When a parent calls asking about a mark, it is sometimes a tough conversation to begin. That said, when we engage in the conversations of interpretation and consideration we are more likely to engage in conversations of learning, which ultimately, are what we’re looking for.
To truly see myself as a co-learner, I’ve had to make a big step. I did something I’d never done. It changed everything. I gave them the curriculum document.
You know the one. The document loaded with edu-babble and overall expectations. The booklet that sums up why we are here in class everyday. I gave it to them. Let them read through it. We had to decode some of the language. We even had to talk about the relevancy and redundancy of many aspects.
Then we talked about what we’ve done so far. What expectations they’ve demonstrated. We talked about what standards they’ve achieved. We talked about ways that they could demonstrate the skills necessary to achieve success that are connected to their interests.
I gave them the information I had and joined them in the discussions about what, why, and how we are learning. The second half of the course will be very self-directed. They need to demonstrate these expectations. We’ve changed the vocabulary, an assignment is no longer that. Instead, the work they do is an opportunity to demonstrate the skills. They get it now.
I think removing the blindfold and framing the learning at the middle of the class has changed the dynamic. The individual discussion is now about how they can demonstrate what’s expected. Not about numbers or assignments.
Even more so, it is not about the assignments I create and they comply with, but rather it is about their ability to demonstrate that which they know they must. It is heavy stuff for them. It has always been talked about abstractly. Now they know what it is. I’m expecting them to start looking at the curriculum documents for other courses. I’ve encouraged them to do it. I’ve encouraged them to look for alternative ways to demonstrate their skills in other classes. I guess some teachers aren’t going to like that.
But then again, it’s not about them. It’s about the students.
If we are looking at a learning environment that is distributed, asynchronous, collaborative and ultimately, personalized, how and why are we evaluating students?
It is constantly suggested that teachers are moving into the role of “facilitators” of learning, and “co-learners”, how then do we hold a position that ‘can’ evaluate? Now, I understand the political and social pressure to maintain status quo when it comes to giving a grade, but isn’t the nature of this educational shift removed the standardization, including what it means to be a proficient Grade 11 English student, for example?
To take that further, how do we know when students are “ready” to further their learning? “Ready” to progress into University? If learning looks different for each student, is there any common ground?
All in all, we need to re-think evaluation.
At some point, all this verbal feedback I’m providing for students needs to be written down. It needs to be documented. All this qualitative “data” that I’ve received needs to be synthesized, anesthetized, and quantified.
I’m at the point now where some leg work needs to be done in order for my students, their parents, administrators and my colleagues can start processing what we are doing in class.
I’m going to create an online (wiki) collection of feedback I provide. All written feedback, maybe some verbal anecdotes will be recorded on an individual wiki where only myself, the student and the parent have viewing and editing access. That way, there is a repository of the feedback and all members can be part of the ongoing learning dialogue.
I plan to “copy and paste” parts of written work by the student, with my comments as well. This way it will be directed, specific feedback.
My hope is that when mid-term report card marks are needed the student and I will already have established an online / synchronous conversation about their learning. Also, it will include all feedback, therefore the student can go back and remember what I said about their writing.
Now it is just to do the “up-front” work that is required.
Style switcher only on this demo version. Theme styles can be changed from Options page.