Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Reply Hazy.

A little more than a year ago, I posted an entry entitled "Reply Hazy, Try Again Later."  My daughter frequently insists that I tell her the same information more than once, and here it is happening again.  I sat down tonight, ready to entitle this entry with the very same title.

Maybe it's LATER, now, and I'm trying again, if only to reuse the title that has resonated with me since my childhood.  This time, the Magic 8 Ball has become a metaphor for the assessment of Inquiry Based Learning projects.

Yesterday I mentioned the ongoing discussion about the new roles of teachers as professional "un-stickers," and the resulting challenges that accompany the fabulous work presented by students.

Rubrics are  great, defining exactly the expectations for the student in a traditional classroom.  "Here's the material, learn it, apply it, regurgitate it on a test or in a project."  Kids have learned to expect this, and gifted and talented kids use this as their own glass ceilings, meeting the mark, rarely choosing to exceed the almighty column on the far right of the table.  So what does a gifted teacher, or ANY teacher, do to make sure that kids are learning and engaged and producing and creating at a level commensurate with their abilities, instead of hitting a target well below their full potential?

Here's my solution:  Don't give them a rubric.  (Or have them create their own, but that's another story for another day.)  Instead, assign the need for the collection or creation of artifacts -- much like Charlotte Danielson now expects from teachers -- and stand back and wait.

And then...

Ask the students how they did, individually. 

Concept to Classroom outlines this nicely on their website:

Individual assessment can reveal the student's perception of the following:
How the student views her individual effort.
How well she participated in class.
The quality of her work.
How satisfied the student is with her work.
Things that she found difficult to figure out.
Things she found interesting and enjoyable.
How she might improve her performance.
How she viewed her work compared to that of an expert.
How her skills, knowledge, and habits of mind improved.
What she viewed as important about the unit of study.


Perhaps one of the best ways to really assess student learning from inquiry learning is through a narrative assessment. This narrative becomes an important report for the student, the family, and the teacher. It is very important to see how integrated the process of inquiry learning and the assessment of inquiry learning are -- and narrative provides a way for students to demonstrate not only what they know but also how it relates to their other knowledge, their ways of seeing the world, and the ways they assess and analyze ideas.


Thinking critically, and identifying the potential improvements that could have enhanced the product, will usually be the biggest problem encountered by the teacher -- particularly with the perfectionistic minds of the gifted learner.  In the times that I've asked for student reflection, I often play the role of cheerleader, trying to get kids to embrace the goodness of their already-impressive work.

So yes, the idea of a perfect assessment system is hazy, requiring another shake of the Magic 8 Ball of Assessment.  Student self-reflection may be even hazier, as they muddle the waters with their own innate obsessions.  The biggest conundrum  very well might be that the work appears unmatched by any previous effort by the student, who now declares his work at a 75%, as the teacher pencils three figures into the assignment with tears in her eyes, wondering why the brilliance was squelched for so many years.