Saturday, August 1, 2009

In the end it all comes down to assessment...

The last 3 days at BLC '09 was an amazing experience. The quality of the presenters and conference goers was exceptional. Listening to the amazing keynotes and breakout sessions was inspiring to say the least. The future is an exciting time, it is going to be different-for certain, but filled with opportunities that we can't even imagine today. This knowledge should have a profound effect on how we teach our children.

No longer can we continue to do the same old stuff in our classrooms, we need to start meeting the kids where they are. Our middle school students were born in 1996, they started school in 2001, they have never known the world to be unconnected. They network with a vast community of peers instantaneously - this is normal for them, not new or novel. Our teachers on the other hand are still cautious because for the first time students are driving the bus, they are demanding that we allow them to be connected, learning through their community networks on the web - yet we still fight to hold onto what we know and are comfortable with. We are losing our grip though. It might just be time to jump on that skateboard (look at the photo on the upper right of my blog).

It is imperative that we look at how we can change our teaching practices to incorporate what our students use for tools instinctively. Much like we grew up using a paper and pen, our students today use their phones and iPods to communicate, research and learn. What would we have done if when we threw a paper ball or passed a note, the teacher confiscated all of our paper and gave it to the principal for the day? Or if I used a pen to poke someone or write something inappropriate would the teachers ask me to put my pens in my locker and not bring them out again? This is what we do with our students cell phones and iPods - or better yet their learning tools.

In the end it all comes down to assessment. Until we embrace the idea of allowing creativity into our classrooms, breakaway from the need to have students memorize content for tests, we will continue to do a disservice for our students. Given the opportunity our students would surprise us. Take a look at this english essay on the Cantebury Tales as an example.

Our need to mark students as individuals, to give them a score is counter productive to real learning. Our students exist in an environment where they can read a blog, an online article and respond directly to the author with a comment. They can debate the merits of a piece with other people who have read the same article from possibly the other side of the world. Imagine how rich an experience that would be for our students.

I don't have the answers, but I am certainly going to start asking the questions. We need to change our ways. I think we need to start with assessment. Good teaching, is good teaching with or without technology. If we can improve our assessment practices to become more formative in nature it will be much easier to bring technology into the classroom and allow students to be creative in the way they learn and present information.

We have a great deal to 'unlearn' before we can truly move forward and meet our students where they are. I am starting to forget...


  1. Slinger, you are becoming a cyber-geek!! Tweets & blogs, Google Docs ... not bad for swimmer.

    Couldn't agree more with your sentiments ... my head was 'swimming' after the BLC09, some truly transformational ideas and an inspirational time.

    Keep the blog comments coming, I'll be checkin' in regularly.


  2. Welcome to the world of Blogging my friend!
    Your anytime Pro-D that you just happen to share with the world!
    This is an interesting post and I think a look at assessment is key when looking at the transformational nature of what tech can do in the classroom.
    I think individual, formative assessment can be very powerful and so I wonder what you mean by this, "Our need to mark students as individuals, to give them a score is counter productive to real learning."
    ...just opening things up for discussion! :-)

  3. The buzz words in our district is differentiation and formative assessment. The thing that I find interesting is that very few educators subscribe to going to a deeper level of understanding these concepts and therefore they become "educational fads" that will pass when the administrator moves on to the next school.

    Our job as administrators is to create the urgency around learning these concepts in depth. Thus creating transformative practices.

    In my experience, the more teachers look to truly differentiate the more they turn to digital solutions to meet the needs of their students.

    Fortunately the need for "official" summative data is beginning to dissipate (university entrance requirements are slowly trending towards portfolios and interviews being weighed more than GPA). Therefore teachers are feeling less pressure to manufacture marks.

    I have had so many conversations with teachers who have let go of their mark books and have concentrated more on giving functional feedback to their students. They describe a weight being lifted off their shoulders and they feel that they are really teaching.

    Lastly, it is our job to remove the fear and apprehension towards change. Any change really, in this case technological opportunities. So much of our effort is spent dealing with those who hold on to "what works".

    It all works if you set your learning intention low enough.