Evidence for the Prosecution

I was at a discussion or meeting a couple of weeks ago about one of my favourite topics – Assessment. The format was that representatives from 7 schools described where they were going with assessment and what problems they were grappling with. We looked at assessment policies and practices from the theoretical to the procedural. We looked at software systems and how they were used, how you put in data and got it out in a variety of different forms. The usual words were being used “Summative”, “Formative”, “Evidence”, “Reflection” and of course “Data”, when I began to notice that I understood different things by some of these words compared to the others. I explained that at the meeting in a rather haphazard way, but thinking about it since has crystallised the problem a bit more for me.

chart

Some Spurious data from the wonderful tylervigen.com

 

My two main areas of concern are the use of the words “Data” and “Evidence”. I worry enormously about the way data is used whether it is big data, personalised data, averaged data, data-over-time, data-as-snapshot or data as the start of a conversation. The other schools in this conversation were all very keen to make it easy to put in lots of data. Systems are judged by the lack of impediment they create to a teacher putting in data. They were then very keen to use the data as much as possible. There were tables and graphs, coloured cells popping up on spreadsheets to indicate anomalous data, letters sent, meetings arranged, reports written and targets set on the basis of all this data.

Reading the news headlines of recent years should make us terribly wary of data. There is a whole profession of people whose expertise lies in collecting and drawing conclusions from data. They study in minute detail the best ways to collect accurate normed and unbiased data. They are not just a bunch of teachers whose real profession is teaching and who use a bit of data on the side to help them. No, these are the true data junkies. Unfortunately the evidence (that word again) indicates how unreliable this process is. They have got most major global predictions wrong. From the complete absence of a prediction of the 2008 crash, to the Trump and Cameron elections, to Brexit and Leicester City, the analysis of data has been completely wrong. Not just a bit wrong, but completely wrong. How wrong can you get a choice between win and lose?

So why aren’t we amateur data addicts a bit more worried about the way we use data? It is just too seductive isn’t it? After the meeting I described at the start, a colleague from another school said to me that he was surprised that I wasn’t so keen on using real data to describe progress, because I was a mathematician after all. Perhaps that is the problem. I have a romantic relationship with the products of mathematics. I love the processes. I can sit over tables on spreadsheets for hours as happy as the bunnies in the Fibonacci story. But, I can also see my lover’s faults! If you take a large bunch of numbers and perform some interesting and quite complex maths on them, you can produce conclusions. The main criterion for the value of the conclusions is the sophistication of the maths. The more complex, the more seductive. The second criterion is the quality of the presentation of the results. Colours and graphs, animations and alerts are just so persuasive. We often fail to question the nature of the data it has come from. Beautiful constructions from bad bricks still fall down.

A weather analogy. My colleagues were looking at students targets based on predicted grades. They had a wonderful system that showed up when the deviation of performance from expectation was large or significant. If performance was lower, then it clearly showed something was up. Red lights should flash. Alarms should ring. Reasons need to be found for the underperformance of the child. Note that it is always the underperformance of the child and not the overperformance of the prediction. If yesterday’s weather forecast had predicted a sunny day, but today turned out rainy, would we be looking to see why the day had underperformed? What is wrong with the day that it has failed to live up to its expectation? I suggest we are more likely to call the prediction into question than our observation of the weather. We would blame the weathermen or the Met office, or the website or the newspaper. They have got it wrong again. But with kids we would rather blame performance of the child than the inaccuracy of the prediction. Strange isn’t it.

So, does all this data really constitute evidence? I must come clean and say the correct answer is “Yes, but only a bit!”. If a child is graded and the grades go steadily down, we should try and find out why. If a whole class of children’s grades are going down we should try to find out why. But what we must not get sucked into doing is thinking that the grades are the complete picture of the child’s leaning, just because we can plot a graph. We should not think that this constitutes evidence of learning whether it goes up or down. Evidence is much more complex than that. These trends are evidence only of grades.

chart-1

More correlation from tylervigem.com

Another weather analogy. Describe yesterday to me, from a weather point of view. Just have a think about what you would say if I asked you to describe the weather in a couple of sentences. You could do it couldn’t you? Now describe the weather yesterday in a number – just one. A bit harder? Will you give me the temperature, and if so at what time, or would it be an average? Or perhaps you would choose the hours of sun, or the millimetres of rain? The pollen count or the relative humidity? Difficult to imagine summing up the weather in one number isn’t it. So if we cannot sum up a day in one number, why do we attach such credibility to a lot of days summed up by a lot of numbers? A graph of average temperature over all of the days of a month is a collection of a lot of single days reduced to numbers, and no more than that. We can look at trends of course, and therein lies the power. But it is only the trend of a single number on a single day. The reduced encapsulation of a day into a number is no less a reduction of data just because we do it a lot.

Let’s take a step backwards. You gave me a couple of sentences to describe the weather yesterday and we probably happier with that than with any single number you produced. Even then, I wonder if it captured the whole of the glorious complex changing weather of the whole day. Did you catch all the subtle changes of light as the clouds move, the sun drops and moon appears? Did you capture the different nature of the rain as it moved from a few sporadic drops, accompanied by a drop in wind and a lowering of temperature, to a tumult that washed away the leaves left on the ground by the wind of the morning? The point I am trying to make is that we can only experience the whole day be being in the whole day. Anything else is a reduction. The same is true with a piece of student work. They may write an essay, paint a picture or write up an experiment. Any comment we make is a reduction from the complexity of the work. To reduce further to a number removes evidence rather than creates it.

With the weather we are unlucky. If you arrive in my town and I tell you that yesterday was a glorious day, you can never experience it. Not that exact day. It is gone. But in education we are largely very lucky indeed. A piece of student work usually still exists, and we can go back to it again and again. I say usually, because a performance is not usually the same. I unfortunately missed a play at my school last week due to some unavoidable meetings. I am told it was wonderful, but I will never see it. Shame!

Here is the nub of my concern. When my colleagues spoke about evidence they meant sets of numbers, and occasional comments that summed up some spurious reductionist data and had value only because we can draw pretty graphs. When I say evidence, I mean the work itself. That is where the evidence lies. Let us resolve never to reduce the glory of a child’s learning to a number, but look at the work itself and see that here is the evidence of the progression of his communication skills or her analytical skills. Let us never send to parents a number that we pretend describes their child unless we have shown them the piece of work in all its complexity, with all its strengths and weaknesses. Then we can engage in reflection on learning that actually means something.

Don’t try to encapsulate the development of Picasso’s artistic career in a set of numbers and pretend that it describes his art. We are often guilty of doing no more than the analysists who would do this by listing how much the paintings sell for. The cost of everything tells us the value of nothing.

Assessment article

I have just had an article published in the International Teacher magazine. It is not really particularly new, and is more of an edit of the assessment pages on this site. However if you want to read it, it is here.

It is no longer available on the site, so I have added it here.

Assessment

Is there any topic in education that exercised more chapters in books, more conferences and workshops and more column inches in the papers than assessment? How we do it, what it is for and the validity of what it shows us are all keenly debated. At one end we have the interpretation of results:  “Trend for grades to increase shows steady dumbing down of educational standards” or “Trend for grades to increase shows improved teacher training.” Take your pick. The interpretation depends more on your preconceptions than the numbers. At the other end assessment is not about measuring at all. It is formative and relies on feedback to students. How do we make sense of this forest of meanings for assessment, and the jungle of opinions about how it should be done?

We are guilty, in schools, of creating a very artificial environment for our children. This happens in many ways, from uniform to bells, in grouping by age or by ability. None of these things happen much to most people in adult life, or in childhood outside school. Nowhere is this more true than in the realm of assessment. You would be right, at this point, to turn the tables on me and ask what I mean by assessment, but I will refuse to take the bait. I will use various examples where the word is used to define a certain practice, but the definition will elude us for a while. In the end, perhaps we can get rid of such a confusing term altogether.

A wonderful example of assessment comes from Mary Poppins. I am not necessarily recommending you see the musical but near the beginning Mary, the new Nanny, meets the children for the first time. She takes tape measure from her bag and holds it up against the boy and reads “A noisy, mischievous, troublesome little boy.” She then does the same to the girl, which reads “Thoughtless, short-tempered and untidy”. When it is put against Mary, it reads “Practically perfect in every way.”

We may laugh at the magical properties of the tape measure, but are we so far away from that when we use numerical evidence as a basis for a discussion of a child’s learning? For many teachers it is a short step to using the same data to justify conclusions about their personality. Perhaps these are the teachers who would like the students to think they are practically perfect in every way.

Let’s get back to the real world outside school. We know that most people in most jobs are rarely, if ever, examined or tested, certainly not on a weekly or even daily basis. We also know that most of these people are not regularly graded with averages calculated to see how they are progressing. Yes, there are many cases where sales figures and production targets are used to assess an employee’s worth or even salary, but that is not the same thing. To see why not we need to look more deeply at what assessment is.

 

 

 

Assessment is essentially reductionist and distant.

Look at this picture. How do we think the artist might have arrived at this piece of work?

Hong Kong Skyline – Joyce Hadiwibawa

 

Details from Hong Kong Skyline – Joyce Hadiwibawa

Details from Hong Kong Skyline – Joyce Hadiwibawa

I have seen the sketches and photographs that the artist worked on leading up to this painting of a fictional skyline. But there is more than just the artwork. This painting comments on political and social issues of the day. At the time of painting there was a lot of discussion about illegal structures being added to buildings in Hong Kong. Many of these were on roofs as the details show. The two candidates for the post of Chief Executive Officer, the effective leader of of Hong Kong, were both accused of creating illegal extensions to their homes.

The question is how do we assess this work of art and what value does assessment have? For any piece of work, the general pattern goes something like this.

  1. The teacher discusses the idea of the work with the student
  2. The teacher comments on the sketches and research as the student progresses.
  3. The teacher gives formative feedback to help the student progress with the work.
  4. Once the work is complete, the teacher comments on the work, giving suggestions how the student can progress with the next piece.
  5. The student reflects on what they have done and what they have learned.
  6. The teacher assigns a grade to the work. This may be a number or a letter. It may be related to a rubric, or a set of criteria.
  7. The student judges the success of their own work by the grade that they have got.
  8. Parents see the grade and congratulate or comment to the student. Sometimes they see the work.
  9. The grade goes into a calculation of another number or grade that includes other pieces of work.
  10. This term grade or course grade is viewed by parents, colleges, universities or other relevant outside

Now, how much of this is actually assessment is rather open to different points of view. The purist traditional teacher will say that assessment means that you take a piece of student work and assess it’s value by giving it a mark or a grade. Anything else is feedback or discussion. Those brought up in the era of formative assessment will want to include all of the steps as being part of the assessment process.

Semantics aside, the point I am trying to make is that each step takes us further away from the student and their piece of work. Each step reduces the piece of work first to discussion, then to a comment, then to a reflection, then to a number, then to a component of another number. This is why the process of assessment is essentially both distant from the work and a reduction of it.

What works for adults works for children

We would never consider assessing work that is done by adults in this way. To take the Art example again, imagine going to one of the great galleries and seeing a great piece of work. When I go to the Raina Sofia Museum in Madrid and stand in front of Picasso’s Guernica, I can scan the work and soak in its majesty. The idea that a comment from someone, however erudite the critic, could stand in for the work is ludicrous. To go even further, any suggestion that I should reduce this piece of Art to a number is patently ridiculous. Yet we do it for students! All the time!

This is just as true in other domains. Einstein’s work on relativity is completely useless if we just comment on how good it is, or give it a grade. We need the work itself to be able to send rockets to distant planets or design a GPS system. We cannot use the assessment of the work in place of the work. Only in school do we say to a student or a parent or a university that a student is working at a numerical level and expect that to stand in place of the actual work.

Even as teachers we are not normally assessed by reduction to numbers. It is true that some systems do this, but there is no evidence that I have seen that indicates this helps teachers improve their practice at all. As we have seen in the previous chapter, the discussion about our work is helpful as it helps us reflect but an assessment, in the pure sense, doesn’t.

Why can we not apply adult behaviour to students?

This may seem as an argument for formative assessment over summative assessment, but I think we can go further than this.

An Interesting Article

I came across a good article by Dylan Wiliam in the TES the other day. It is called “The 9 things every teacher should know“. None of this is earth shattering, but it is clear and supported and well written by one of the most sensible and honest of the pack of educational gurus that roam around our schools.

I first came across Dylan when I first started teaching back in the early 1980s. We were both Maths teachers in London and collaborated writing a couple of O level and GCSE papers if my memory serves. He went on to be the pioneer of Assessment for Learning with groundbreaking work such as Inside the Black Box. His 2010 BBC TV series The Classroom Experiment is on YouTube.

There are obvious things about learning in this article, that we sometimes forget.

“It is important to remember that unless students are struggling to make sense of what they are learning, little knowledge is likely to be retained in the long term.”

“How well students perform in a learning task is inversely proportionate to how much they will remember weeks later.”

“For successful collaborative learning there should be group goals: students should be working as a group, rather than just in a group. And that each member has to be accountable to the group for the quality of their contributions.”

Have a read, and go to Dyan’s website for more papers and videos.

A suitable response?

detention

After a discussion at a meeting at Island School, I was given to write down some thoughts about detentions and other punishments. Here they are. I don’t think any of it is earth shattering – fairly obvious really.

I start from the principle that any measure that we implement in response to a behavioural issue must serve to prevent the student from repeating that behaviour. If it doesn’t do that then it shouldn’t happen. This view stems from the idea that we are in the business of teaching children how to behave positively.

What is interesting about a lot of the literature about detentions is that the argument for their effectiveness often comes down to the fact that it is something students do not like. Phrases such as “Detentions at lunch time are particularly effective because it removes social time and they do not like that.” And “No one likes having their free time removed” abound. The argument goes that if the threat is something they do not like, then they won’t do it.

I think this view comes from a paradigm that is wrong on several levels. It is based on the idea that education over behaviour is a conflict that we, the adults, must win. We must make children feel worse as a consequence of what they have done. I have worked in schools where this atmosphere is very much the case. The conflictual nature of behavioural transaction between teachers and students has been so deeply engrained in the school and the prevailing community that it is very hard indeed to see a way to break that cycle. In that sort of school getting students to behave well, even for the wrong reasons, is a victory. I am lucky in that I work in a school that is not like that. We are lucky enough to be able to strive for more and aim for children to behave well for the right reasons. We want students not only to display responsible behaviour but to do so because they care for others and can take responsibility for their own well being.

The paradigm of retribution is expressed in many forms. We say, sometimes, that people must suffer the consequences of their actions. I do feel uncomfortable with an education policy based on people suffering or deliberately making then do what they do not like. Of course we all have to do things we do not like, and so should children, but that is different from making them do them because they do not like them. There is something inhumane and rather misanthropic about this viewpoint.

The next concern I have is that I have never seen evidence that this process actually improves behaviour. If the argument is that of a deterrent, then it becomes a deterrent to being caught rather than the behaviour. Getting away with it is therefore equated with success.  The number of repeat offenders in any detention system would rather indicate that it has a rather low success rate. We have to ask why this might be.

Research and my own observations indicate that there is a strong correlation between students who feel connected to their community, feel valued and, crucially, liked and those who behave well or positively. Similarly, those who feel alienated, dissatisfied and unappreciated tend to behave worse, and take less notice of the codes of the community. They have less motive to behave well to and for others, if they do not feel respected by them and part of their society.

Now there could be a chicken and egg argument here. Does alienation lead to bad behaviour or does bad behaviour, and its suffered consequences, lead to alienation? Actually it doesn’t matter. If the former we need to work on the alienation, if the latter we need to work on the consequences.

We value the conversations that help students understand the harm their behaviour can cause to themselves, other individuals or the community. This is true whether they miss lessons, disrupt others’ learning, take drugs or act violently. The success of these conversations leads to a growing understanding of the effect their actions have on themselves and the community and their part in it. I would argue that the detention has a tendency to undermine all the good work.

We want students to believe we care about them, because we do and because that helps them see the truth of what we say and act appropriately. We want them to care that the adults close to them will be pleased by their good behaviour. We want them to want to please. If they feel we care, the guilt they feel about letting us down will be far more effective than the fear of a meaningless consequence.

If the attentive caring conversation is followed up by a detention, I suggest the default response is often to wonder how authentic the conversation and the advice was, to take another small chip away at the connection the student feels with the school, and to increase the chance of the not caring about the consequences of the next infraction.

This is why I talk about feeling the school code rather than understanding it. It is an emotional response rather than an intellectual one that will cause young people to change their behaviour. This is because it is an emotional response that causes their behaviour in the first place. Young people will transgress against the expected norms if they feel no emotional connection with the society. Note that I wrote “feel no connection” rather than think they have no connection. If it was a merely intellectual understanding, then a logical argument will explain to them why it is wrong and so they will understand and never repeat it. We know this does not happen. The logical explanation is never enough. They need to feel the meaning, feel the guilt and feel the need to change.

Any suffered consequence that takes away or reduces the guilt that they have been wrong, lessens the chance of the lesson being learned. If the student can possibly feel that the response is unjust, unfeeling or unfair, then they will grasp this straw as a lifeline to reduce their own guilt and replace it by the much more comfortable feeling of being a victim. Once we have got to that point, we have lost.

We are all victims of our own past. We are created by our own experiences. So, my views on detention and punishment in school are framed by my school experiences. I had numerous detentions, and I don’t think I ever thought that any of them made sense. It reinforced my opinion that the adults in the school were, with few exceptions, people who did not care for me. I really couldn’t care less if I upset them because they couldn’t care if they upset me. I was not an easy student and confrontation followed confrontation. I am now adult enough to see my responsibility in my actions. What has happened is that I have emotional distance and can see through the fog of feelings to apply my intellect. I also feel that the detentions did the opposite of help my feelings. If only someone had made me feel guilty rather than wrong, I might have been a better person.

 

The launch of the Alice articles

This is the first of a series of tales about Alice returning to the Looking Glass World of Education. Apologies to Lewis Carroll for pinching his characters, and for mixing up characters from two books. There are two more chapters on this website and no doubt, there will be more to follow. Hopefully they will provide a different view on some of the assumed truths in our schools.

Actually, last night I had an idea for a different format for these reflections. We were talking about Gordon Ramsey of all people, and a Swedish friend mentioned his series where he goes into failing restaurants and swears at the owners and managers about their incompetence. I suggested a similar series for schools might be a good idea, with our Gordon going in and questioning them, in his inimitable style, about whether they are actually doing what they claim and how. One day I will write a script for the first episode of “Hell’s Staffroom”, but for now you have to make do with Alice and her friends.

Alice in Education Land 1

Alice Gets a Job

2book2Alice was feeling drowsy as she sat on the sofa in the living room. While the weather was inhospitable and cold outside, the warmth of the fire had a soporific effect as she looked at the mirror above the fire and remembered her past adventures as a 6 year old girl. Of course she was much older now, and was a confident and knowledgeable adult because she had been through Education. She always wondered whether to write the word education with a capital E or a small one. Capital E Education made her think of the systems and institutions that she had been through from kindergarten and school to university and college. It meant the names of the courses, the way they organised and, of course, the qualifications that she had gained, which were now framed on the wall just next to the looking glass. education with a small e meant something different to her. It summed up what she had actually learned, what she knew and what she could do, how she understood the world and the skills she brought to bear on the bits she did not yet understand. The mystery was why these two seemed so different to each other, and why there seemed to be so little connection between the two. Two other words sprung to her mind as she reflected on her learning, and she knew that all good learners should reflect. She has been told that many times. The two other words were “because” and “despite”. They seemed almost interchangeable in so many sentences, which left her even more confused than before. Did she learn because of school or despite it, because of exams or despite them, because of teachers or despite them? It was at that point she resolved to get to the bottom of the problem, using all the talents her education had given her. In short, she would find out whether she had gained an education because of her Education or despite it. The opportunity came sooner than she might have dreamed.

It grew colder in the living room for reasons that Alice could not quite explain, for the windows were closed and the fire still blazed. Yet, there seemed to be a breeze springing up, and coming from the fire. No, not from the fire, from the looking glass above the fire. There was something born on the wind, fluttering in the air. A piece of paper? A letter? Yes it was a letter and it floated through the glass into the sitting room to land on Alice’s lap. It looked formal as it had a crest on it, but the only writing that it bore were the two words “Open me”.

Alice had learnt before that interesting things can happen when you follow enigmatic instructions so she opened the letter. It was from the office of the Red Queen.

Dear Alice

I am pleased to say that your application for a post as a teacher in Wonderland has been successful. You are now appointed as teacher of the Pawns with immediate effect. Please report for school this very afternoon for you training and professional development.

I am sure you are looking forward to working in our fine establishment.

pp Red Queen

Alice wasn’t sure she ever remembered applying for such a job, which she found a little strange. It turned out to be one of the least strange things she discovered in the Wonderland of Education.

Chapter 2

Sugata Mitra and SOLES at Island School

SugataWe had a visit from Sugata for a couple of days to Island School. He spent a day looking at aspects of our curriculum, and then presented to the whole staff, before a workshop with a smaller group on SOLES. If you don’t know his work, then google him and see the TED talks on The Hole in the Wall and others. SOLES are Self Organised Learning Environments, which have occupied a lot of his more recent research. They are interesting to us, as we have established group activity and collaborative learning at the heart of our new curriculum and I believed or hoped that working with Sugata would help illuminate our way forward with these ideas. What I found was as challenging and controversial as I had hoped, with some fundamental differences between the way we plan our groups and the way he would advocate. It has been a fascinating challenge to us and one that should make our practice better.

Perhaps I should explain what we do at Island School, then look at the SOLES and highlight the differences. Skip this bit if you know about Explorations.

A few years ago we introduced a middle school course called Explorations. The aims were to do the things that the more traditional courses did not do so well. The emphasis was to be on collaboration, understanding our place in the world, research based enquiry, transfer of skills and communication. You can guess that we have already plenty of courses that require students to work and be assessed individually on their grasp of content that is set by exam boards. Explorations was to be different.

The content is drawn from the Cambridge IGCSE course in Global Perspectives. This is good because it allows a lot of freedom in choice of research question. We choose one of the 20 global issues, students frame their question, do their research and respond to the question. There is a lot of scope for learning and using enquiry skills here. We blended this with our ICT programme. We use the IE Award because it focusses on use of skills in a real context and because most of the writers of the course come from Island School! This means that students can use their IT skills for their response to the research question.

Conscience is one of our key skill areas, by which we mean understanding the effect of ones actions or inactions on the world around you and taking responsibility for that. Obviously understanding the issues of the world is at the heart of Global Perspectives too, but we insist that one of the units the students take on has real action at its heart. For example a group of students might produce a promotional film or create a website for a local charity related to the global issue they have researched.

None of the above is particularly different from the way most schools would deal with these issues. The key difference for us is that the collaborative groups of students are all mixed age. Typically there are 6 students with 2 each from our years 9, 10 and 11. This means they need to learn and practice the leadership and collaboration skills to make the group a success. The year 9s learn from the hard working aspirational year 11s. They take on more responsibility in year 10 and become the leaders in year 11. Leading the group involves finding ways to make everyone’s contribution valuable. These are incredibly important skills and they are often left out of mainstream education and consigned to the extra-curricular domain. In Explorations, we want to teach these skills as part of the academic programme.

Sugata Mitra’s SOLES are based on collaboration as well. He has had great success in using this structure to encourage students to learn to work together and tackle deep problems through combined research. You can see why they are of interest to us, and why we thought his work relevant to the Explorations course in particular. The most interesting things we found are the fundamental differences between the SOLES and Explorations.

 

In Explorations In SOLES
We choose the groups of students who will work together, and the size of the group. The students decide who to work with, and the groups naturally evolve to a workable size.
Each student has a computer. We are a one to one school. The computers are limited to about one to five students with big screens.
Students stay in the group they started in. Students can change groups at any time.
Students choose the research question. The teacher sets a question for the whole class.
The teacher supports and encourages, giving advice on collaboration, research and response techniques. The teacher does as little as possible, responding to most questions with “I don’t know, but when you have found out can you tell me?”
Research projects take several weeks. SOLE activities rarely run over a day, and are often less than this.
Assessment criteria are fixed by the exam board. There are no fixed assessment criteria.
Groups are always mixed age. This is done by design. Groups are the same age. Even if the class is mixed the freedom to self-organise means that they will gravitate to the same age.

 

Sugata says he is continually amazed by how much students can research and learn if they are left to do it without interference. He has many entertaining stories of these successes in his classes and, increasingly, round the world. One might say that the self-organisation allows students to get into a comfortable learning environment with as few obstacles to their learning as possible. They learn because the question they have been asked is inherently interesting.

In Explorations, we put students into an uncomfortable learning environment and challenge them to find ways to behave that will work. It is noticeable that they do not like this experience at the start of the year, but speak positively about what they have learned at the end of the experience.

Which is the better approach? Or should we do some of both? Sugata noted that if we start SOLES with middle school students then, initially, they need help and support in make these a success. If they have done some since the senior primary school years, they can just get on with it perfectly successfully.

We are thinking about these questions now. Perhaps we will introduce some more SOLE like activities in the earlier years to see what effect this has on their work in Explorations. If we can free ourselves from the constraints of the IGCSE assessment model, perhaps we can do both within Explorations, but at different times. The assessment model for SOLEs would be more like we do in Elements courses (see elsewhere). Assessment is by evidence and conversation, rather than judgement and grade. I am philosophically much more comfortable with this than the rubric and criteria model, which stifles creativity and removes responsibility.

Loots to think about. Exciting as always.

 

Presentation from AISC

Various people (was going to say several, but it is best not to exaggerate!) have asked for the link to the Prezi I used at the AISC conference in Hong Kong last week.

I have tarted it up a bit with a path that includes the bits I had to leave out and some more stuff a=in some of the stops.

You have to click on the graphic and go to Prezi because Worpress still doesn’t use the type of embedding that Prezi uses! Get it together guys!!

Capture

Should numbers define what matters?

2012-05-28 07.35.07

Guernica

 

 

 

 

 

“Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” Albert Einstein.

Have you noticed how we tend to split what goes on in a child’s education in school into two categories? Sometimes we call them the curriculum and the extra-curricular. The meaning of “extra” here is that it is outside. More recently people have preferred to use co-curricular, so it is “with” rather than “outside”, but still not the curriculum. Sometimes we just talk about lessons and activities. I suppose this implies that lessons are not active, and in many cases this may be true. However the converse which is that activities are not where students learn is definitely not true.

The big distinction, though, is that there are a range of things that students do that matter, and we show this by attaching a grade to them, a number or a letter. Alongside, there is another range of things that we do not grade, and so they do not matter so much. However much we might like to agree with Einstein, there is a very strong implication in all schools and all educational systems that things that are assessed are more important than things which are not. Why else would you hear students asking “Will this be graded?”, “Will this be put on the assessment system?” and “Is it on the exam?”

And yet, we all say how important the “extra” or the “co” or the “activities” are! We all encourage students to take part in all things that go on in our schools that are not in the assessed courses, so perhaps deep down we really think they are important and we recognise that learning happens everywhere, Why do we insist on practising assessment apartheid on these second class experiences?

Let’s stop all this by including everything a student does in an assessment system that allows them to showcase the evidence of their learning from wherever it comes. Give them the freedom to add anything from inside the school or outside the school (Heresy! Kids learn outside school too?) to the collection of evidence and let them ask for assessment comments from coaches and instructors, peers and collaborators and even (gasp!) parents. Let’s then take the next step of dropping the grading that reduces a wonderful child’s experience to a number.

An assessment system like that would be worth having!

If you think that the numbers are not a problem, try to assign a grade to the two wonderful pieces of Art at the top of this post in a way that really tells you something about them and doesn’t reduce them to ridicule.

Hong Kong Roofs: Joyce Hadiwibawa

Guernica. Pablo Picasso