Growing Success Growing Pains

Unlike many of my colleagues, I really like and am interested in talking about assessment and evaluation. I know that’s the part of the job most teachers hate, but I love it. To be clear, I still hate how time consuming and tedious it is to actually assess and evaluate, but if I feel like the assessment is authentic and really allows students to show what they know, then I find it a lot less tedious.

I think it’s really important to, on a regular basis, question our assumptions that form our teaching ideologies even though that can be distressing and uncomfortable and that’s the part that I’m at right now. So let me begin by stating, apologetically, what my assumptions were about assessment and evaluation were:

Assumptions

I assumed that, in general, the best way to design an assessment task was to begin with the learning goals (informed by the curriculum expectations), identify how I would know whether students had achieved those expectations, then create success criteria based on this. Then, I would create/find an exemplar that demonstrated level 4 achievement of the expectations (and if I felt super ambitious, maybe exemplars for the other levels as well). Next, I could have the students co-create the rubric, or I could make it myself, making sure I was using the success criteria identified to develop the rubric so they would know exactly what they needed to do to be successful. If I really wanted to make sure they were successful, I would give them checklists they could use to make sure they were meeting the expectations.

In other words, I would be very very clear about what I wanted students to demonstrate. And I would be very very clear about how they would go about demonstrating this. In other words, I would be as explicit as humanly possible about how students could get a level 4 on their assignment.

What Changed My Mind

I am preparing to be part of a really exciting project for September where I am working with three other teachers from two other schools and we are taking grade 10s from each of those schools who are interested in project based learning. No subjects (although they are earning credits for English, Civics, Careers, Science, and Integrated Arts), no bells, no work sheets. It’s exciting and terrifying, like doing high-wire acrobatics without a net. I plan on blogging more about this in the future now that I know for sure it’s a go.

On Tuesday we had a planning session with other teachers from our board who are engaging in similar projects. We were lucky to get to meet at Innovation Works in downtown London Ontario–a hub of creativity and inspiration. We had several impromptu guest speakers including Kelsey Ramsden, an amazing woman who makes me feel woefully unaccomplished, and two equally impressive guys from Officialize.com¬†whose names I forgot to write down because at that point in the day my brain was fried (it could also have something to do with the fact that my nine month old baby has decided sleep is for the weak). All three of them spoke about the problems they’re seeing in potential employees. They see young people with post-secondary degrees who are very good at following instructions and ticking off boxes but not very good at problem-solving, thinking creatively, or bouncing back from failures.

In short, we have created monsters.

Perhaps that’s a bit dramatic, but I feel that in our attempts to make it very clear to students what they have to do to be successful, we have placed limitations on their own concepts of success. These are hard-working, motivated, bright kids I’m talking about too. But in our attempts to eliminate ambiguity, and make assessment practices transparent, we have created a generation of compliant kids who are trained to give us exactly what we ask for.

But the world needs innovators!

The three guest speakers all spoke about the fact that they wanted employees who took initiative, and weren’t afraid to break the rules. They didn’t want employees who were waiting for list of tasks to complete.

So what do we do? Do we throw out rubrics, checklists, and exemplars? Do we move completely to inquiry and problem-based learning? How do we balance all of this with what we in Ontario are being told we must do according to Growing Success and the curriculum documents?

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