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Assessing the things that matter

What we value in our classrooms should be represented in the things we assess and report on.

1463585811_icon-93Currently, my department has been trying to replace the focus on content that has dominated our teaching and learning and replace it with assessments that assess the things we believe are of most benefit for students and their future learning.
Top of our list to better evaluate are the skills of working scientifically, with a particular focus on students demonstrating their thinking as they problem solve. The ultimate aim is to craft classroom cultures of learning and thinking where individual students take ownership of their learning and go about it collaboratively with peers.

Ron Richard’s Creating cultures of thinking has been and continues to be very influential in our shaping of these cultures.

Our process.

In producing tasks and assessment criteria we have relied on the NSW syllabus documents and the Australian Curriculum as a starting point for the skills and problem-solving outcomes we focus on. To help define thinking  we used the SOLO Taxonomy to provide the language to explain the different thinking levels and often the level of application of each skill we assess.

Although the implementation is in an early stage, I have found my writing of comments in reports has shifted as a result. I’m now writing comments encouraging students to push their thinking and to work on demonstrating their thinking in all aspects of their work.

This is an ongoing process and any thoughts or feedback are actively sort. If students find deep thinking hard then so do their teachers. And a belief in social, collaborative learning drives us to hear and see what others are doing. It is with this in mind that I have set up the following Google folder to share what we have done to date. Please have a look and let us know your thoughts.

Sample assessments shared folder



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Personal Digital Devices and Learning

My school has gone down the 1 to 1 device route.  Year 5 and 8 this year have had devices introduced into their learning environments and then progressively over the next couple of years personal digital devices (PDDs) are being introduced into the other learning environments.

This implementation is different from most other schools I know of, for two reasons. (I would be interested to discover other schools that are similar.) Firstly it was the pedagogy being employed by the school that triggered the need and demand for better access to digital information and processing. The school is seriously investing in pedagogical developing, changing learning so that it is personalised, collaborative, constructivist and deep thinking in nature. It has not resulted from a government mandated and funded program or an elitist laptop program that has placed devices into classrooms that don’t get used because teaches have not changed how they teach. (A generalization I know, but I do also know it’s a reality in many schools)

Secondly notice I have been using the term device not laptop. The school has taken the decision to use a university model of device tooling.  That is the students provide their own device, and can choose to bring whatever device they want.  Parents were given some advice as to what was needed such as Wi-Fi ability, and basic software / app suggestions (word processor, spread sheet, presentation software). Thus the array of devices is impressive, 17′ laptops, 10’netbooks, Windows, Mac, and iPads. Three different operating systems and endless variations in specifications and software.

The first couple of weeks were manic mostly because of Wi-Fi issues, with many devices that could not connect. This has mostly been sorted and as part of the year 8 integrated unit (Quest) teaching team I’m able to walk around our open space learning area (SCIL) and observe 90-140 students working productively, independently or collaboratively, on tasks.  In this environment teachers act more often as mentors and guides getting students to think more deeply about concepts and skills rather than being the providers of knowledge. Sounds great and it is. I often have to stop and reflect how different it is to what I have done in the past.

I was walking past a group of teachers the other day and one made the observation that it was actually very difficult to find students doing the wrong thing.  They meant this in a positive way. Students are so engaged that they are not wasting time and energy off task.  It immediately struck me that he was right. 95% of the students are intrinsically motivated and engage with the learning tasks.  But on further reflection and on examination of work being produce there are some students that look busy, look engaged but are not producing much in a lesson.  How do we ‘catch’ these students, what gives them away? The answer is age-old, active teachers who take the time to get to know their students individually.  You engage them, by personalizing and differentiating tasks. Knowing your students also informs your decisions of when to give direct instruction and when to let them uncover and discover for themselves. Teaching continues to be an art form, not a science, it needs to be relational and active.

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Collaboration – Group work – Cooperative Learning

After looking at and reflecting on the list of different skills that are predicted to be important in the 21st century I have  decided to focus on just one; collaboration.  Well, at least have one as a focus while I continue  ruminating on the others, as I think in practice it will be hard to separate many of them as there is a level of interconnectivity.  One example is that  student thinking has been shown to  improve with  student  involvement in group work where they are required to verbalise their understanding or challenge others. Which leads to a deeper understanding and improved learning outcomes.

What is the best way to use group work?I have chosen collaboration as a focus because as a teacher I have at times avoided group work. Group work  often represents hard work having to negotiate the myriad of potential conflicts and relational difficulties that arise when students are allowed or are forced to work together.  When I have assigned group tasks often I have not thought them through as thoroughly as I should have.  Thus by choosing collaboration as a focus I plan  to reflect on the  research  of others that suggests that student outcomes are improved as students engage at a deeper level.

I have started to be more conscious about the use of group work in my lessons and I have started reflecting on how best to plan for and incorporate it. Here is a sample of the questions I’m reflecting on and looking for evidence to answer.

  • Do students performed better if they collaborate?
  • What  different forms of collaboration are used and which are most effective?
  • Is the size of a group significant?
  • Is how group formation occurs important?  (student choice, teacher choice, based on ability, friendship groups, age, ses, gender?)

There is lots to think about.

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Thinking, collaboration, problem solving, adaptability and creativity…

21st Century Skills

The ability to think deeply and creativity, to collaborate with others , to problem solve and adapt to rapidly changing situations are described by many as the key skills required for success in the knowledge age of the 21st century.  Is this the complete list?  Should we add other skills? Is one more important than the others? Which should we focus our energies on in the classroom? Will certain focuses produce better outcomes for students than others? How do we go about training students to develop, build and improve on these skills? How do we measure the attainment of  such things?

These are all questions I am taking into the start of this year, with the plan to investigate and apply some of the solutions / answers ( suggestions) I find in my classroom.

Note: Thanks to Kristy Brown’s helpful comment I have also added communication skills,  cultural understanding and sensitivity towards others and knowledge of digital media and technology to the list of  skills for the 21 century.

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