Assessment will be education’s greatest opportunity, if those making policy decisions really understand the issues at stake. Unfortunately, assessment will likely continue to spell pedagogical doom for most educators and prove 2012′s biggest policy-maker headache thanks to some consistent misunderstandings from local to national levels about what assessment can actually do.
Assessment, Every Day
Assessment is something I rely on every day. As part of a change in practice my consultancy has been facilitating throughout schools in Brisbane, we’ve been exploring assessment as part of harnessing the design thinking process in learning, teaching, and better managing schools. It has led to some of the most rewarding teaching experiences for the teachers involved, and a real “no turning back now” change in attitude through the way students approach their learning.
Feedback for Great Learning
What I’d like to concentrate on here is the most important stage in that design thinking process, one that runs continually throughout great learning: feedback. Feedback is all too often misunderstood as synonymous with assessment. Likewise, assessment is wrongly seen as meaning, by and large, testing–the implication being testing at the end of a period of learning. These errors are not just seen in busy classroom teachers with little time to delve into a research report; they’re seen in the misunderstandings of policy documents at state level.
These two linguistic misunderstandings will be 2012′s greatest leadership error in educational policy making in the U.S. and elsewhere, and will negatively affect the outcomes of millions of students.
Yet it needn’t be that way.
Feedback should form part of the family of formative assessment; that is, assessment that is used to inform better learning within the same area of learning, not just a test score one gets before moving onto the next, unrelated topic.
Formative assessment is also about the student initiating the assessment, not the teacher constantly interrupting the flow of learning to instigate some reflection. After all, the best time for a learner to reflect is when they feel they have something to reflect on, not with five minutes until the bell sounds, or when the teacher has a gap in his or her plan that they want filled.
And formative assessment can be “played” by peers, too. Self-assessment is instigated by the learner with questions about how well they believe they are performing, what needs further work, and what is proving tough. Peer assessment is where a trusted third party, a critical friend, asks the same questions, and points out with their fresh eyes where things could be improved.
Vitally, all this self- and peer-questioning feeds back into learning immediately, and it serves to improve the final product of learning. That also means that it serves to improve any summative assessment result; i.e. the test score.
Design Thinking for Formative Assessment
On a practical basis in the classroom, there is much that the design-thinking process offers to aid formative assessment. Here are two key ideas:
1. Establish a project or a learning corner.
Key to knowing where you’re going to take your learning is seeing where you’ve come from. One way to do this is through a project corner, where the individual’s or group’s observations and ideas are logged in a collaborative memory board, like the one below, which you can see grow over time from our Design Thinking School in Adelaide:
You can view some more on this part of the design thinking process in our video on the process
2. Have students keep a learning log or blog to track their learning.
When I went to New Brunswick on a teaching tour and saw how they did French immersion, a key part of the process was keeping a learning log, or a journal de bord. In it you write down what you think you’ve learned, what you think you want to do tomorrow, and what you have to do between now and then to be able to do what you want to do. Vitally, keeping this log up to date is in the student’s hands. It’s nearly always self or peer initiated; it’s not the teacher telling them to do this.
And the minute you have generated a culture of self-reflection it can happen anywhere–on the bus, at home, or in the classroom. You’ve finally freed the student from only being able to learn in a classroom. Of course, with modern social technologies like blogs and social networks, this can be done on a cell phone or laptop, just as easily as on a paper log.