I drafted this back in February and it has sat.
These are my thoughts and not pointed at any place or person – just me thinking about
school and kids and us.
The beginning of the year has come (and now gone). The sense of urgency to get things done was playing on my mind when I first drafted this post. The beginning of the year is a really important time. A time to start building those all important relationships. A time for teaching and practising what it looks like and sounds like to be a learner who is part of a community; things like empathy, supporting others, celebrating difference, understanding others, collaboration, being kind, using manners, solving problems peacefully and so many more vital skills which are fundamental to all the learning teachers hope will take place later. Building this solid community needs to be done deeply; so these things become embedded in our spaces. And this takes time.
And then there is the urgency to start teaching the real stuff.
This tweet came through while I was drafing this post and had me nodding my head.
Creating genuine communities of learners in our spaces where learners feel valued and have a sense of belonging requires that we slow down and do the teaching and learning with the kids that will enable this.
This is the real stuff!
This learning will be carried through with them for life.
Then this tweet came through …
We hear about the importance for schools to move towards being student centred, how learner agency should be encouraged and taught, how educators need to step back to provide opportunities for choice and voice, how one size does not fit all, how learner directed inquiry is the key to engagement and motivation and so it goes on.
But really what is changing?
Is change dependent on how much agency we as educators have to go and brew our own PD? To go and search for new ideas and new thinking? To be the risk-takers we are asking our kids to be? To practice critical pedagogy and test out hypotheses we come up with? To push against the status quo? To be respectfully disruptive and disobedient? And what is the consequence of this?
Maybe even before that, does it depend on whether educators actually feel there is a need to change things up? Because if you don’t think change needs to happen then you are not going to be bothered with growing yourself and your practice. You are likely happy with the status quo. You go about your business as you always have.
How do we know if a school truly has students at the heart? What is happening in schools that promote this? What does it look like in classrooms? What is the teacher doing if a school has students at the heart? What systems are evolving and changing if students and their learning are at the heart of a school?
Because they have to change.
Systems and practices which have been around for over a hundred years are not appropriate anymore. But do we as classroom teachers have the power to change these systems and practices that perpetuate inequity and inequality, to move from compliance to empowerment, and focus on learning and not performance?
We can certainly challenge them. We can change some of the practices that happen in our own classrooms at least. But is this enough?
This brings me to the reason for this blog post in the first place – how is assessment changing to fit in with how learning is changing?
What should assessment look like in schools which encourage agency, promote students being at the centre, are inclusive and equitable, and are moving from compliance to empowerment?
It is surely about learning not performance. About shift and not measurement. About creating confident, connected, actively involved life long learners.
Using standardised testing and other standardised tools of measurement and focusing on the outcomes of these tests is not learner centered. The way assessment is complicated by the use of these unnecessary measures is resulting in work-load demands which are not sustainable.
For 10 years (or more) I have encouraged and investigated formative assessment practices. The the practice of giving pre-assessment tasks which would then be compared with a later piece of that student’s learning to identify shift became embedded (although now I don’t use this practice as I feel this somehow tells the student that this is the end-point and my learning stops here). The development of matrices of criteria (using the NZC) which were shared and often co-constructed with learners and used as (self) assessment tools became embedded. Asking the kids what best learning looks like so they felt they had a voice was radical, but embraced, as this was empowering. The practice of feedback and feed-forward used by teachers and peers to identify what had been done well and what the next learning could be became embedded. This metacognition our learners were engaged in meant they were active participants in their learning. The discovery of the single point rubric streamlined the criteria and made it even easier for our learners to assess their learning and identify what they were doing well and what they needed to do to see shift. SOLO Taxonomy rubrics were created to encourage learners to think deep about concepts. All these formative assessment practices engage the learner in what they are doing. They build a learner’s metacognitive ability which makes them active participants in what they are learning; an essential skill for life.
If we are truly wanting empowered learners who are actively involved we need to be trusting them to be reflective and make judgements for themselves.
When a judgement needs to be made by the teacher about a student’s shift, it can be made from looking at their previous learning. We do not need to administer some kind of test to find out what they can do. We can look at their journey.
That is when I came across Ipsative assessment. I finally discovered there is a name for a type of assessment which focuses on a student’s previous work and progress rather than against external criteria and competition.
So why we are so stuck on measuring achievement through the particular lens of standardised academic testing or worse, analysing the results of these tests?
Who benefits most from this lens? Who are the results for? How reliable are the results when we know what we know about kids sitting tests.
Is this a way of ensuring power and resources remain in the hands of a certain group of people?
It brings up a wondering … does the achievement gap actually exist? Or does it only exist when we use the particular lens of these standardised academic tests? Not to mention the lens of white colonial ideology?
What if the gap is actually with us as educators?
This leads nicely into what is currently on my mind.