Sunday, December 6, 2009

Our Changing Landscape for Teaching & Learning

Student Inquiry

Remember the 5/Star Inquiry model and graphic organizer shared at the September Update? If not, check online for the pdf versions. Work continues and exciting new partners have shown interest in working with us. Student inquiry is, from the point of view of those who work in school libraries, the answer to meaningful understanding in the face of inch-deep, miles-wide learning of the bulletted learning outcomes that force teachers to "cover curriculum."

There is great student engagement in the inquiry learning opportunities TLs host; they integrate technology tools and resources with the print resources they know work; they work alongside their teacher colleagues to create, monitor, and assess student learning, scaffold that learning, and re-design it as needed, based on "just-in-time" collaborative work. They are trained in this work of hosting the joyful and meaningful learning events they know are important and lasting for students.

Talking about Assessment: More on Damian Cooper

On Friday, 600 teachers attended a Pro D day to hear Damian Cooper, the Canadian expert on assessment for learning. Cooper began by asking us to examine our own practice and see if what had to say resonates. How could we have missed the resonance when he referred, in what might be understood by classroom teachers as the intensification of practice under years of the tendencies of the accountability agenda (what Hargreaves calls "the third way") to exacerbate the need for numbers and measures and paperwork, to our tendency to say, "If it moves, mark it!" We are big, he suggested, on the cognitive and not so on the affective piece of learning. Just because we can test 'em doesn't mean we should. A single assessment, much of the standardized stuff we use to understand our students, is unreliable. We are dealing with children and are not a factory but a place where we help kids realize their potential. Do we need to sift and sort them by levels?

Standards are not the same as standardization. Always seeking metaphors to assist our understanding, Cooper assured us that his way did not lack rigour. Pilots in training are given multiple opportunities to practice; do you want to fly with the one who got 50%? We need to get rid of mediocre thinking but we can't expect all students to have "demonstrated proficiency" the first time round.

Scores don't make kids improve; descriptive feedback does. It is important to examine practices that have the opposite effect to that which is intended. Are we discouraging students with our assessment practices? Ultimately, we need to work hard to "put ourselves out of work" and have kids do it themselves, using peer- and self-assessment. Once in a while, we need to "play detective," pull in the evidence and "crunch rich data" for reporting, in order to "convict the student of learning." Assessment, suggests Cooper, is an "imperfect science" and we need to look at stopping the delivery of judgements and defense of measurements to two decimal points. We need to trust ourselves in the important application of teacher professional judgement.

In another analogy, Cooper compared assessment that promotes learning to sports. Drills, like quizzes, are evidence of memorization, not thinking. They are not "the game." Think team, coach, practice. If we want kids to learn, we need to turn the score off. Quizzes, instead of being for marks, can be ungraded to provide immediate feedback and evidence for students engaged in meaningful self-assessment of the mistakes they need to learn from. When we use rewards, we turn students into Pavlovian "dogs" salivating for marks and right answers. Alfie Kohn says the same thing, that when we reward behaviours, we risk their extinction.

When we assess using multiple choice, we are assessing knowledge, not skills. What, asked Cooper, if driving were only assessed using multiple choice? Kids want relevant, engaging, authentic, and current learning challenges instead. Can we make their work look like the work of "big people," that is, publish it, practice for game quality performance, and so on.

Yep, lots of resonance for everyone in the room, I think, judging by the crowd and the excitement. For more VSB-suggested readings on Assessment for Learning, click here. Call me if you are interested in following up on this topic.

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