To mark my blogs move to this new address I thought I’d start with a bit of a rant about three words/ concepts that we need to rethink in education.
Number 1: Delivery
We’re not serving up onion bajis, although they do sound a good deal more appealing than a lot of what is being offered to too many learners across the world. As educators we are not in the delivery business, we are in the engaging with learners business.
We should be co-creating meaning with our students by provoking, unsettling and supporting. Erica McWilliam’s description of educators as meddlers in the middle has always stayed with me.
Number 2: Grading
Yes this has to go. It has to go. Think assessment, think meaningful feedback, and think informing the learner with accurate, specific, useful information and data. Even within otherwise progressive and enlightened places of learning, ill thought out outdated approaches to assessment kills and stifles learning.
Read some Alfie Kohn on assessment for the social and human aspect of this and watch some Rick Stiggins for how more enlightened approaches to assessment raises student achievement and you won’t look back. Unless of course you think learning is about putting students in rank order, if you think that then please comment, that’s a debate I always enjoy.
I also love George Siemens attack on complicated learning tasks where students are given a puzzle or a challenge that is then graded on how closely the students are able to match their ideas to the teachers with the closest one getting the highest marks. He calls for complex, open learning tasks that we don’t know the result of.
I often find the teachers that are the most resistant to getting rid of content heavy, multiple choice type assessment tasks are the ones that were good at them themselves. It’s like taking away this practice will undermine them as experts. I’m sorry, but get over yourselves, there is too much important stuff to be done further up the cognitive ladder than to be wasting time with just remembering decontextualized facts that will be forgotten anyway. I remember a teacher in a workshop talking about actively trying to forget stuff he’d learnt in high school to free up space in his brain for more useful knowledge, not sure it was possible but imagine that was a student in one of your classes. Ouch.
The good news for those who are looking to get all the stakeholders in a learning community to reflect, discuss and debate your collective approach to learning is that a change to your approach to assessment will do just that. Certainly that was our experience in my previous school when we implemented a new ‘Assessment for Learning’ policy to the parents. This was a contentious move as we got rid of A’s and B’s throughout the school and overall grades in the middle school with a much greater focus on formative assessment and timely, useful, directed feedback. The transition wasn’t easy and there were teething problems but crucially the whole community was forced to rethink many of their assumptions about learning. Here are some of the slides (link to follow) we used from the presentation we did for the parents about the change.
Number 3: Curriculum
Yes curriculum, Wikipedia highlights the problem with this term perfectly,
Right here is the problem with a lot of people’s thinking about learning. Prescribing what other people should understand is getting us off on the wrong foot as we plan a learning experience, not that that is even possible.
I am not bagging good planning here, although there are aspects to curriculum mapping I think we need to reconsider, but I always feel much more comfortable when we are working towards behaviours, habits and attributes than dealing with prescribed lists and tasks.
Ahead of a learning planning session and during spend if I spend some time with Bena Kallick’s 16 Habits of Mind I feel focused and motivated. If I’m thinking about digital literacies I might go back to Alan November’s simple but useful three skills or Howard Rheingold talking about the attributes students need to succeed. However when I am given a prescriptive, restricted list of stuff that students have to do I feel like doing something else and often do.