Friday, April 11, 2008

A new metaphor : Assessment tasks as performance.

A talented group of students from Marina View School. For the equally talented teacher of this group it is possible for her to assess both the group and individual musicians - and in a positive way so as to add value to every ones enjoyment. Learning as performance; nothing new.

It is exiting to read, in a recent Ministry pamphlet 'Assessing Key Competencies' ( written by Dr Rosemary Hipkins), that one way to think of assessment is to consider the demonstration of competency as a complex performance'.

The pamphlet suggests that the 'sum is greater than the parts, and all of the parts fit together.While individual parts may be singled out for specific attention', isolation of these may 'misrepresent the overall learning'.

It is somewhat surprising that some educationalists have only just picked up on this way of assessing learning, one used naturally in the real world. The problem is that schools have been diverted from such an understanding by believing in tests, written exams divorced from reality, and an obsession with assessing atomised bits of learning. Such educationalists have not been able to see the wood for the trees.

Quoting Howard Gardner, the pamphlet states, 'The only reliable way to determine whether understanding has been truly achieved is to pose a new question or puzzle - one on which individuals could not have been coached - and to see how they fare.'

Creative teachers have long practiced such an approach, as have those who teach music, or coach sport. In such situations every activity, or performance, is both a diagnostic and an assessment task. Learners in such situations are focused on improving their performances so as to extend their 'personal best', or the quality of their performance. Such evaluations depend on self assessment, assisted by students' coaches or mentors.

Performances involve both process and product and require teachers to be mindful of what each learner is doing, what assistance they might need, and what the might do next. The key to students' qualitative success lies in the ability and understanding of each teacher, coach, or tutor.

A challenge for teachers is to assess 'key competencies' involved in group tasks - assessing the success of the whole and at the same time the contributions of each individual. Sports coaches and artistic directors have always concerned themselves with both. If tasks integrate various Learning Areas ( which they ought) this provides another challenge, particularly for secondary teachers.

Thankfully there are plenty of ideas to assist. Students competing in science or maths fairs already appreciate the need to apply individual talents to a group task. Drama, music productions, and sport, all involve solving such dilemmas.

The Ministry pamphlet suggests the use of 'rich tasks' that could involve a range of subject areas and competencies. A problem, or project based curriculum, is required to allow competencies to be developed in real and relevant situations. This ideally involves teams of teachers collaborating to design (and assess) such intensive project based challenges.

Creative American high schools schools that have developed such an inquiry based performance based environment involve outside experts in the assessment of their senior students' projects, demonstrations, exhibitions, or performance. Such an approach creates a culture of personal mastery and continual improvement.

Such a performance culture would require a transformation of New Zealand secondary schools and a move, in primary schools, from an obsession on focusing on assessing literacy and numeracy targets. Many schools create portfolios of students' achievement, many stored for viewing on school websites. Such collections of projects are used by many schools as part of their three way reporting process, involving parents, students and teachers.

Schools, who are developing such a performance ethos, are well on the way to developing 'personalised learning'; an approach that values each student's 'voice', 'identity', and particular set of talents.

Such schools are moving out of the educational dark ages and are forging the minds required for an age of creativity; a second renaissance.

Schools using an approach involving 'performance as a metaphor for assessment' are well on the way to 'engaging' the students who have great difficulty in fitting into our 'one size fits all', traditional education system.

Further reading:

'The Big Picture' is an inspirational book about a school that has introduced such a performance culture,


Anonymous said...

Performance based assessment is great - it is how people are assessed in the real world whether they are plumbers or musicians.

It is how people handle new situations that count; it is what people do, when they don't know what to do, that shows how competent they are!

Bruce Hammonds said...

It does seem obvious. For too many school success does equate with success in life - and 'school falures' have succeeded in spite of a poor school record.

If the only game in town is rugby, and you play soccer, then you will never have the chance to perform up to what you are capable of.