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“…but that’s not what I teach.”
That phrase was the conversation stopper of a recent discussion I was having with a teacher about assessing student learning. Somewhere along the way, because of new state rules about teacher evaluation and accountability, this teacher had changed the way she assesses her students so that she could get a clean, quantitative measure of what students were expected to learn in her class. And the conversation was difficult to have.
Her High School Art students, her excited and engaged High School Art students, had to take a reductive assessment that amounted to little more than definition regurgitation to prove that they had grown in knowledge over the course of their time with this teacher. The students’ pretest was an unknown list of vocabulary words and art terms that they did not know. The posttest was set to determine if they learned those words and terms. If they performed well on this written assessment, then the teacher would be found to be effective or highly effective in her teaching performance.
“…but that’s not what I teach.”
There’s a scene in the 5th Harry Potter film, The Order of the Phoenix, where the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Dolores Umbridge (who works for the Ministry of Magic–insert your own State or National Education Reform Commission metaphor here) refuses to teach practical magic. The students remind her that in each of their previous four years at the school there has been an authentic reason to know how to defend themselves with magic.
As long as you have studied the theory hard enough, there is no reason why any of you should not be able to perform the spells under a controlled examination.
Without ever practicing them?
I repeat, as long as you’ve studied the theory!
How does that help us in the real world?
This is school, not the real world.
The conversation with the HS Art teacher was heading in this same direction. She was describing a system that was trying to measure what was, perhaps, not worth learning; at least not worth learning in isolation. Surely the art terms had some worth contextually but were they the primary target of instruction? No.
During our conversation, I looked over at the window sill and saw this:
I walked over to the variety of mugs, in their final stages of drying, before being put into the kiln. The students had been working for weeks (keeping their mugs in plastic to prevent drying) on perfecting techniques to shape the mugs, the handles, the top lip, and the design of the outside. The teacher explained and demonstrated different techniques and students tried them out, creating their own works of art. Over several weeks and with feedback from the teacher, they came to a point where their work was “Kiln-Ready.” Once it goes into the kiln, it cannot be modified.
The conversation shifted.
“Here’s what you teach,” I said. “Here’s your assessment.”
“Oh, I know,” the teacher said, “this is my destination; this is what I’m driving the kids toward. But I also have to make sure I attack that vocabulary for the test. The actual product is too difficult to quantify how effective I may be.”
We talked more about using rubrics. We talked about elements of art critique and collaborative cycles of feedback. We talked about how the students and the teacher could collaboratively navigate degrees of quality so that a rubric could help students determine when their work was “Kiln-Ready.”
Is all of this reform we’re dealing with that great in theory? Is what we quantify in the classroom more important than what we qualify? Is doing what is easy more important than doing what is right? Because the reality is, at least in this classroom (and classrooms like it across our country), it isn’t practical. We don’t need more REform. We need more TRANSform. We need more NEW form.
We need more Kiln-Ready moments and less Umbridge-style interpretations of assessment. Also, we need to celebrate those teachers, like this one, who understand how important Kiln-Readiness is, in spite of a misguided and ill-informed accountability system.
by Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano
Cross posted to the Langwitches Blog
I have been a fan of Visible Thinking Routines which were developed by Project Zero from Havard, for a while now. I have used these routines with students, as blogging routines and in professional development workshops.
The Visible Thinking Routines website explains that:
Routines exist in all classrooms; they are the patterns by which we operate and go about the job of learning and working together in a classroom environment. A routine can be thought of as any procedure, process, or pattern of action that is used repeatedly to manage and facilitate the accomplishment of specific goals or tasks.[…] Classrooms also have routines that structure the way students go about the process of learning
As I am trying to make
21st century, modern, contemporary or “now” learning visible, it seemed a natural step to point out “Modern” or “Now” Learning Routines.
Write about what you read, write about connections you are making between the content you have read, write about things you wonder about and write your reflection of your thoughts. What did you think about? What does that make you want to explore further? Why do you agree? Why don’t you agree? What steps will you take, now that you learned about something new?
Comment or annotate on the things you read. Leave a public comment on things you read online, annotate on the margins of physical reading material with sticky notes, highlighters or pencil. Make your mark by leaving your initial reaction or thoughts and connections visibly in the space.
2. Learn > Reflect > Share
Learn the way you learn best, listen to a lecture, watch a demonstration, write and organize your knowledge in a mindmap, discuss an area of interest with a friend, watch a movie, go to a workshop, attend a university class, etc.
Reflect about an experience, be cognizant of what and how you are thinking, be aware of where you are coming from, of different perspectives, influences that are and have guided your thinking and choices. Jon Dewey said: ” We don’t learn from experience, we learn when we reflect on our experience.”
Share your learning and your reflection with others. Make a conscious effort to not only reflect quietly in your own mind , but make your reflecting visible and shareable, preferable in digital form. The digital form can be archived, duplicated and amplified beyond a limited amount of face to face colleagues.
3. Contribute > Feedback > Grow
Contribute to the learning of others, add value by answering questions, share your expertise, bring in another perspective or a different point of view, Contribute by sharing examples of what works and doesn’t work in education. Be a building block for others to remix and build upon your work, so we can transform learning together, across time zones and geographic borders.
Be open to receiving (and giving) Feedback by being transparent with your work. Take feedback into consideration to see your work through different eyes. Let feedback push your train of thought in a different direction or receive affirmation that you have been looking in the same direction. Feedback will allow you to gauge interest of others in your area of interest. Connections that you make via feedback (left by you or for you) will help you build your learning network.
Grow from critical feedback you receive. Grow your learning network by giving more than you take. Learning is a process, where you will be in a different place from where you started out from. Grow by achieving goals that you had set for yourself and grow from the experience in overcoming obstacles.
4. Watch > Do > Teach
Watch someone use a tool, you have never used to learn before. Observe someone take a traditionally taught lesson and transform it by using technology to amplify learning. Watch how students take ownership of their own learning as you watch a video of another teacher documenting a lesson from their classroom. Watch how a mentor skypes into your classroom and co-teaches virtually. Watch a coach model a lesson about digital citizenship for your students. Watch a consultant share workshop material.
Do, try it out, test it, experiment with what you saw to make it your own. It does not have to be perfect the first time you DO (Remember: FAIL means “First Attempt In Learning”). See what works and what does not in your individual situation.
Teach it to others. Aristotle already proclaimed: Teaching is the highest form of understanding. One of Alan November’s Digital Learning Farm jobs is that of a Tutorial Designer. In order to be able to teach a concept or content to someone else, higher level of understanding of content knowledge is required.
5. Document > Present > Disseminate
Documenting FOR Learning is a supporting piece for the study of self-determined learning (Heutagogy) and a strategic approach and technique to facilitate learning (Pedagogy). Document learning as it is happening. Use different media (text, images, audio, video) to archive what you are teaching, what your students are creating. Document the timeline of events. Document student voices and understanding. Make the process visible for others. Documentation allows teachers to share best practices with colleagues and to make teaching available for students outside of classroom hours. Documenting is a tool to inform further instructions and a way for teachers to reflect on their own lesson plans, delivery and teaching pedagogy. Documentation allows teachers and students to build their footprint in a digital world.
Present your documentation in a form that makes it easy to share and is visually appealing to others. Become the lead storyteller of your learning. Create slide decks that “readers” can view in their own time. Show process by creating a visual timeline. Allow others to be a fly on the wall in your classroom by making a video of learning taking place. Create a video that summarizes your learning, easy for others to take a look at. Create infographics to visual represent numbers that tell a story. Create a space online (website, blog, Instagram account, Facebook, etc.) to be able to give others access to what you are presenting. Apply and present at conferences (face to face and virtual ones) to share with other educators and students.
Disseminate your documentation. The movie quote from Field of Dreams: “If you build it, they will come…” is NOT true. Simply documenting and presenting your work on a public platform will not necessarily bring in the masses to give you a global audience. It takes strategic action to disseminate your work. Send out a tweet, leave a comment with a link on a relevant post. Create a visual with a relevant quote to disseminate with a link. Create video trailers or teasers to make others interested in your work. Write a guest post on someone else’s blog. Write an article for a journal or magazine. Write a book. Offer to be interviewed. Create work capable to be disseminate on different media platforms (Images, audio, video, slide decks, infographics, etc.)