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.
We’ve got a generation of students who believe this. We’ve got a generation of teachers who figured it out and found success through it.
It worked for me.
You know, learn the rules of the game. Then play by them. And the rules were simple, learn what the teacher wants and do it.
Do as your told, you’ll survive.
Now as a teacher, I’m constantly running up against students who believe this credo. The problem all along is that school shouldn’t be about survival. It should be about learning, but somewhere along the way, we lost sight of that.
Another teacher I know calls it “nanny-state education”. Where a student waits to be told exactly what to do and expects to be walked through it.
The real problem is that teachers have been trained in the same system and so we wait.
We wait for a top-down pedagogical inititative and policy that we can make fun of and employ half-heartedly. And so nothing ever changes, or it changes slowly, excruciatingly slowly.
The real shift in education will only come when teachers stop looking to survive by only doing as their told.
Yesterday, it got the better of me. It wore me down time after time. it leaves me asking, “How can we change the culture where students thinking showing up is good enough?”
As students showed up late, they told me, “At least, I’m here.” As students decided not to get their work done, “At least, I’m here.” That was the extent of their expectation of themselves.
I have a problem with that.
We have a culture in school, and I don’t think it is just this one, where we’ve celebrated the showing up enough for students to think that is all we expect of them. But worst of all, they begin having only those expectations of themselves. They begin, or in some cases continue, a race to the bottom.
Maybe that’s what it is all about? We need to understand the education revolution better to recognize that showing up matters little; That getting an education does not have to be at a central building, at a pre-determined time.
Maybe we frame learning so that the least they can do is get their high school diploma?
Maybe the least they can do is learn something they are passionate about?
Do I really care if they are in the room, if they are learning? Maybe the ubiquity of learning opportunities throughout their lives is our lowest expectations?
Maybe this is a call to look at the nature of attendance?
I have higher expectations of my students, so how do we change a culture that seemingly just wants them to show up?
Well, today was day one.
I outlined the course, what we’d be doing, how it was to be structured (unstructured). We talked about what we liked and didn’t like about school as we know it. We asked the question, “What is our class going to be all about?”
We talked about structure and our natural tendencies once we get into familiar environments and how to work through them. Just because we are in a classroom, doesn’t mean we are “playing school”. We talked about community and connectedness. Mainly, we talked about learning.
Then I outlined my rules. Ok, my one rule. Just one. The rule that I’ll keep coming back to, again and again. It is what informs my understanding of their role in the classroom and their learning.
I watched as students looked at each other. I could see the questions on their minds. This defines everything. When we work towards excellence we engage completely in our learning. That is all.
And so we try. To be great.
75 minutes. 5 minute break. 75 minutes. 1 hour lunch. 75 minutes. 5 minute break. 75 minutes. Homework.
Could you do it?
Could you maintain a high level of focus for a day as a student? I failed to mention that you’ll be learning things that you have no choice over. Interested in WWI history, sorry, we are learning about the Roaring 20s. Too bad for you. Interested in creative writing. Sorry, we’re analyzing Shakespeare. Maybe some other time.
Each day, day in, day out, we are expecting our students to perform a mental feat, I’m not sure is possible. Engage cognitively in challenging material, almost non-stop, all day.
How long can you maintain your intellectual focus before you need a real break, or choice, or distraction?
I’m not thinking that it can’t be done, but I doubt it is the most effective, efficient learning model.
Consider a monthly staff meeting, teachers can’t keep focused and dedicated on information that is deemed pertinent to their jobs. I’ve even uttered the phrase, “Do I really need to be told this, can’t I just read it in a memo?” Sound familiar? And yet, our expectations for our students are such that they’ll have the ability to “hunker down” and “shut out distractions”.
Watch teachers “take breaks” during their prep time. How many teacher sit at their desk and zone out while students do seat work?
All this also doesn’t take in to account the need for creative time, an opportunity for ideas to marinate, a chance to sit and patiently ponder. There is no time for that as the next class has already begun.
I raise these questions as I consider the nature of the school day, the idea that the resource of time is not so scarce and yet, essential and most often used as an excuse for the lack of educational engagement. (Another blog post in the making)
Have we really set up our school day for success? Or have we created an impossible cognitive mine field?
This is an incomplete, unsorted, yet fully considered list of my goals for this school year. It is hard to really put this together and to make it feel complete, however, I’ll do my best to put something coherent together.
Teach completely paperless — that includes assignments submitted to me, notes, assignment sheets and an attempt to eliminate school memos, permission sheets and all the other extraneous paper that I wade through everyday. I’m almost there after my success of last year. I’d like to ratchet it up a little. One limitation I’ll deal with is the diminished time my class will have in a computer lab. I’m going to find a solution for the timing issue.
Remove quantitative grading from my practice — portfolio building, parent involvement, better assignments, immediate feedback, student progress awareness, continuous conferencing with students and work that is geared towards a ‘real world’ audience. The documentation and the research is all out there, yet we are stuck in our ways when it comes to the numerical value we give everything, I’m going to try to break this trend. I’ll be writing much more on this major adjustment to my practice.
Citizenship building — trying to integrate real world experience, recognize global and social effects of our choices and to make students responsible for/to each other. Anchoring everything we do in the classroom to the ‘real world’ and more importantly the effects our decisions and actions have on the world.
Community of Learners — each class to exist as a true community, past the typical teenage dramas, recognizing and using the strengths of all. My plan is to really re-frame the idea of the classroom, away from me and instead spend alot of time reconfiguring the web in the classroom. This may be challenging, but oh, so worth it.
Focus — not to let the drama of the English department, school and anything else derail my plans and my focus. This goal is less about my practice, but more about my sanity and my effort to eliminate negative vibes and building momentum.
More to be added, however, this is the first sketch…
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