A Schmidty Way to Assess Learning

This is an example me being neurotic about a term:

I’m not a fan of the term “hacking” and the way we apply it to things. Life-hacks, kitchen-hacks, education-hacks, etc. I understand the context it’s being used in.  It’s meant as a shortcut, or time-saving tip. The word hack originally means to cut something with rough or heavy blows. The term was more popularized with computer hacking; the exploiting of a weakness in a system.

Hacking is ungraceful. Exploitation is unfair.

I like how Reddit calls these so-called life hacks, Life Pro Tips (LPT). So let’s just say this is one of my Education Pro Tips (EPT). I think I’m going to start that hashtag. #educationprotips


Thus begins my take on how to assess and grade students in a way that I believe to be fair, consistent, and understandable.

I know I just wrote a post against grading.  That post was my about larger belief of how an education system that focuses on content acquisition and “teaching to the test” is sucking the meaning out of grades, and worse, the fun out of learning.

The presentation below is my rationale and method for making observations, gathering data, and reporting student learning based their skills, not scores. I am fortunate to teach in Manitoba, Canada, where there is not a focus of specific content. Rather, skills are the focus of the curriculum and reporting of English Language Arts.

This may not work for you given your circumstances, or maybe you have a good thing going. I just want to share it because I, and some others, have found it useful.

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Grades Aren’t Helping Anyone, Anymore

Fun Prank

Work hard + good school grades = university degree = good job = good life

This long-held cultural belief is starting to unravel at the seams. Why? Countless Millenials have completed the first half of the equation, but the second half doesn’t compute. Many end up with a boatload of debt, living in their parent’s basements if they’re lucky. This generation no longer believes the system works in their favour. They don’t see a tangible reward for their toil, where once upon a time it was the promise of a good job and career. Grades are an inflated currency; you can get them, but they have lost their buying power.

The equation has changed. I think it looks more like this:

Find something to be passionate about + do it = Happiness

You can say what you want about Millenials and Generation Z (same old ‘kids these days’ stuff), but the pursuit of social status is not as high a priority as it once was. There’s no longer a magical “it” crowd that you have to make it into. If you’re happy living on $20,000 a year, doing what you love, that’s a win. Happiness is the new rich.

Despite (sub)consciously knowing all this, students still have to go to school, and with a growing feeling of disenfranchisement, most of them just want to get through it. The path of least resistance becomes so tempting… Choosing a project: what’s the easiest one? Choosing a book: which is shortest? Writing: is this enough? Drawing: do I have to colour it? Presentations: how long?

All these say: “how fast can I get it done?”

This is but a challenge. Teachers, secret agents of subversion, are fighting against the oppressive system of grades and standardized tests. Oh, we might be playing nice with the system, but we’ve still found a way to bring joy to students, care for them, and mentor them. We plan, observe, learn, and execute all sorts of lessons, activities, and projects. Teachers coach and operate special interest clubs. We work crazy hours in the interest of engaging our students, trying to get them to see the value in learning. We’re trying to break through that malaise that seems to be enveloping our students; wake them to their possibilities.

The students are not the problem. The system needs updating. We need to help guide kids to their passions. Make them excited to learn something they want to. Assigning numbers, checking off boxes, focusing on content “acquisition”, and working because of extrinsic motivators is a quick way to extinguish curiosity, drive, and joy.

I believe in assessment, evaluation, conferencing, and sharing work. I just don’t believe in the way we input numerical values for a student’s learning.

Want to see an excellent example of how all this stuff I’m talking about comes together? PLEASE watch the documentary Most Likely to Succeed

I know what I’m saying here is not original or new, but I want to add my voice and opinion to the conversation.

The world is rocketing towards automation. Robots and computers will take a vast amount of jobs, and we’ll be left with a population that doesn’t need “work” to justify wages (universal basic income). To prepare for this world, education in the 21st century needs to evolve to help develop well-rounded humans: socially, emotionally, intellectually, and physically. Grades aren’t helping anyone, anymore.


Bonus

Can we please stop comparing international test scores. Using test scores to compare education systems internationally is ludicrous.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯