(Developed in collaboration with Natalia Costales of the Carol Morgan School, Dominican Republic, and Lindsey Greenwell of the Lincoln School Costa Rica, during the 2015 Tri-Association Conference in Bogota, Colombia)
Okay, I was at the 2015 Tri-Association Conference in October – at a session on Design Thinking. Myself and some other teachers were seated at a table, working on a group activity where we were to analyze and then re-design an existing process at our school. We did not brainstorm ideas. Apparently brainstorming is out. It is considered a poor tool for generating ideas. It seems brainstorming, influenced by our need to conform, leads to consensus and NOT the generation of new ideas. What you need to do is Brainwriting. In Brainwriting, the group first writes down their ideas (without the ‘sharing out’ loud bit). Then, when your ideas are on paper, you share them with the group.
In my group, we threw out many ideas, but soon zoned in on assessment as an area where we would like to see some improvement. Areas of particular concern included differentiation, responding to students in a reasonable amount of time, and redesigning grading to include the concept of resilience and commitment – the process, not just the result.
In the current world of percentages and averaging percentage points, finding a way to measure concepts like grit and effort is daunting. For instance, all of us in the group loved the idea of allowing students to redo and redo work until they achieve mastery. But, how is that possible when grades are closed at numerous seemingly arbitrary cut-off dates (end of a quarter, cycle, semester, etc.)?
After much discussion, we came up with the idea of customized assessment – where students chose from a pool of assessment options. Much like getting lunch at a cafeteria counter, students would slide their “tray” along and pick out assessment items. Now, although some students might want to weasel out and select only easy options, the choices are grouped together such that students must stretch themselves by selecting something from all of the groups. The groups themselves could be comprised of presentations, essays, tests/quizzes, and even a list of culminating activities. This allows students to self-differentiate, choosing options that best reflect their strengths and learning styles.
How would this assessment model address the learning process? To avoid centering on results, this cafeteria-style model would remove the time limits imposed in the traditional classroom. So, instead of assigning projects/essays/etc. and setting specific due dates, the teacher would make the list of assessment options available to students at the beginning of the school year. Then, students could choose the way they want to present their learning and work on it (redoing and redoing as necessary) and then submitting the work, when they are satisfied with it, throughout the school year.
To further align with the cafeteria motif, passing the class would be like checking out at the cash register. The teacher would ensure all the required milestones were hit and then present the student with their grade. Keep in mind, that unlike a cafeteria, the teacher would be engaged with each student all year long, observing and assisting (when necessary) in the students’ progress.
Like it or not, students are experiencing their lives in a more interactive and customizable fashion. They don’t wait until next week to see the latest episode of their favorite show – they binge watch the entire season in a few days. They don’t wait for the latest block buster to hit cinemas – they download a copy of it before it is released. Everything is moving faster and is more customizable. Shouldn’t the way schools offer assessment be open to a little change also?