Sunday, May 27, 2007

Assessing a 21stC learner

A comment to my previous blog asked me for ideas to solve the problem of the constraints of the current focus on narrow literacy and numeracy 'targets'; 'targets' that narrow the curriculum, distort the quality of teaching and diminish the creativity of students.

To me, it would seem important to negotiate with the Board of Trustees and the wider community, the qualities that will be required for students to thrive in the future as we move from an 'Industrial' to a 'Creative Era'.

The vision of the draft New Zealand Curriculum might be a good start. I like the phrase, on page 11, where it says all students need to become 'active users, seeker and creators' of their own knowledge; applying this would transform schools as we know them!

Successful future citizens will need to be 'driven' by their instinctive talents so valuing and uncovering possible life long interests ought to becomes a priority for schools.

Future orientated students need to be assessed for: their range of talents and how well they have realized them ( personal excellence and effort); their ability to self assess, self monitor, self- regulate themselves, and set their own learning goals; their ability to keep their own records of achievement; their initiative and creativity; their ability to ask good questions; their communication skills ( including use of modern media); and their ability to work constructively in a collaborative community.

Very little of the above is currently assessed through 'targeted' literacy and numeracy testing. Rather it is a good example of Stephen Jay Gould's book 'The Mis-measure of Man.' It is interesting to note that Martin Luther King scored well below average in verbal skills at school. Many other examples abound.

With the 'press' towards narrow literacy and numeracy targets, passed on by less than courageous principals, creative teachers have been forced to leave more innovative ways of teaching and in the process ignore the very important cognitive, problem solving, personal and creative skills that will be necessary for the students. We see such attributes in our 'new' draft as 'Key Competencies' so maybe the developments of new 'mindsets' will emerge?

To teach to the tests is good advice but only if they focus on the 21stC attributes as earlier outlined . This should be done in a way that it becomes integral to teaching not an unnecessary imposition. Ideally assessment activities should reinforced 'state of the art' teaching practice.

The most powerful assessment should focus on assessing 'whole' learning outcomes - performances of writing, oral presentations, researched findings, expressive art completed work, and so on.

Most of the assessment would be carried on during the process ( 'formative' assessment) by means of teacher conferences,learning conversations, or by what was once called 'kid watching', with teachers coming alongside the learner(s) to provide 'feedback' and 'feed forward' and, where necessary, to challenge the students to explore or express their ideas more deeply. Simple checklists or criteria could be negotiated to make the process simpler for both teacher and student self assessment. At the conclusion of any project a reflective , 'how well did we do and what did we learn for next time?' is vital. The classroom walls ought to reflect examples of past and present 'powerful' learning.

Naturally this needs to involve students self monitoring their own progress and taking greater sense of self responsibility for their own work.

By such a 'repertoire' of assessment procedures teachers would be able to develop a reasonable picture of each students' progress. Samples of work could be collected or students could keep their own portfolios of ideas and finished work and the completed work available would provide parents with powerful visual 'evidence'.

This multiple approach to assessment provides a better 'picture' of the 'whole' child and, if quality outcomes/products are part of the process ( as they ought to be), then the success, as mentioned will be seen by all.

This is as it is in the real world. Process and product are equally important and perhaps the best phrase, to bi-pass the 'either/or' debate is, 'product via process' or vice versa.

Successful people in the future will be recognised by what they can do - their last project will be the best 'evidence' of what it is they are possible of. And success will only be maintained if continual improvement and innovation is the name of the game.

Creativity, not mediocre conformity, will be the mark of 21stC learner.


Tom said...

I only asked one question Bruce ! I am very grateful for your response.

This is excellent timing for me and I have printed this blog out to ponder over. There is a lot to ponder.

I am courageous and we will set some courageous targets !

Anonymous said...

I'm still here Bruce reading your comments and agreeing with them.
Must have been something in the water at Hawera all those years ago.

Bruce said...

Great to hear from you old friend. Still working with schools? We did things well in the 'old days' - not so much imposition of constraining ideas ? More action less paper!

Anonymous said...


Still "doing" appraisals and passing out your blog pages to those I think may read and understand the difference between learning and compliance.