Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Next up: Assessment (ED 520)

My second course at Wilkes – Assessment – has just begun, and a quick preliminary overview has convinced me that I must start mapping out my weeks to keep all the responsibilities I’m juggling up in the air.

Cartoon source: Jim Unger in Juggling Cartoons (adapted)

Angela Maiers’ session in Classroom 2.0 Live a week ago Saturday was about how we can better manage our time when it comes to keeping up with reading, blogging, and social networking -- to say nothing of teaching our classes, doing courses, and 'doing for' our families. Ironically, I didn't tune into Angela's session until about half way through. After two weeks with several sleepless nights preparing for 3 presentations, wrestling with several project rubrics for my last course, and trying to get back into giving my own school projects more time, I had decided to give myself permission to step away from the computer for a while and overslept the start time.

Somehow I don’t think Angela would ever have let that happen (sigh). She has a plan for just about everything: for her days, for her blog, for her Twittering, for her private company . . . and she approaches each of these with the goal of not only getting through all the networking tasks but with the deliberate intention of becoming even more connected.

I’m going to listen to the full archive of Angela’s session again and work on clarifying my own goals for the next few months. I’ve reached a ‘hub moment’ in my own life when some important decisions have to be made. Will I go back to my desk in the fall or will I retire? What do I really want to be doing this time next year? How can I best make that happen?

(Clicking the image will take you directly to the Elluminate link where you can login with any name.)

The first Discussion in the Assessment course asked us to write about our expectations. I’m not really sure I have any – hopes certainly, but not expectations. Assessment is not something I've put a lot of thought into since moving to the Learning Centre. Because the work there is all individualized and the emphasis is on getting students through courses in a timely manner, we tend to use efficiency rather than interest as our prime motivator. The students do their learning packages and when we think they've mastered the material, we give them their tests. Perhaps I'll learn how to restructure my packages to incorporate more alternative types of assessments without having to add to the time it takes for students to finish their units.

I'm also hoping that this course will 'walk its own talk' and model a richer approach to assessment. My e-teaching colleagues struggle with how to ‘see’ multidimensional growth in their online students. They want their assessments to take into account more than content acquisition, skills development, and intellectual capability. They want ways to assess deeper learning and affect, but have few models to help them accomplish this.

Cartoon source: Kevin Siers in The Charlotte Observer (2001) reprinted in Midwest Regional Peace & Justice Caucus Blog (14 June 2007)

A colleague in Saskatchewan has been asking some thought provoking questions about how to make what's going on in their classes reach more deeply into their students' lives. He's not referring to how to make the content more relevant, but how to stretch assessment to include more of the real world work ethic and organization skills such as being able to plan and organize one's time. This idea makes a lot of sense. Many of my students are considered 'at-risk' because they have either rejected or not developed these kinds of 'habits of mind'. As a result they not only find it hard to be successful in school, but also are not well prepared for the demands of being employees and keeping jobs.

(Craig Damrauer: New Math @ www.morenewmath.com)

I'll be looking for guidance abput how to use assessment to promote this kind of learning.

The Week 3 Assignment asks us to review a journal or newspaper article about NCLB and comment on how it touches our own lives. This one by Jordan Sonnonblick in the School Library Journal (5/1/2008) I think may strike a deep chord with many of of my co-students: Killing Me Softly: No Child Left Behind.

Cartoon source: David Horsey in The Seattle Post-Intelligencer(2004) reprinted in Fred Klonsky’s blog (31 August 2007)

In this course much of the focus seems to be about how to strike a balance between (a) good pedagogy and assessment that is meaningful and helpful both to teachers and to students on one hand and (b) the demands to generate marks and get test scores up on the other. When chatting with my US counterparts on ‘Wilkes Tuesdays’ I always feel a deep sense of relief that we in Canada have not gone down the road of high stakes accountability testing (yet). I’m going to have to really reach to make the deliberate concentration on ‘issues American’ meaningful in my little Canadian corner of the universe.
For me doing Wilkes courses so far seems to be about 30% self-examination, 60% struggling to figure out how to put theory into action, and about 10% reconnecting with some of the fears and anxieties our students face on a day to day basis. In the last course it was group work; this time round it's quizzes and tests. One can forget after many years of being on the 'giving' side of these activities what it's like to have to face them day after day. What seems like a perfectly reasonable expectation from the teacher's side of the desk can throw a lot of anxiety into the kids. We (I)'d do well to remember that.

[Note: I wanted to find a video clip of William Hurt as Dr. Jack Mackee telling the interns in his hospital that they were going to first learn what it is to be a patient before they began to learn about being doctors, but this one which is about going through a heart transplant is a good substitute.]

You know, I didn't think had anything to learn from the Constructivist approach when I started the last course about project-based learning.

The good news is that it actually had a profound effect on my approach to course planning -- part heart andpart brain transplant. I'm optimistic that the same thing will have happened by the time I reach the end of 'Assessment'.

(P.S. -- I'll be at Gary Stager's Constructivist Celebration at NECC if there's still space. After taking the PBL course, I wouldn't miss it!)

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