Authenticity- Learning and Assessment

Many of us are asking what the school of the future should look like–what experiences students should have, how we can assess, how we can make sure the students learn the state and local curricular objectives, what experiences are crucial,  where it should happen, how technology plays a role, and the questions we have go on and on and on…

Many research studies have shown the importance of relationships in learning, and recent ones speak to the importance of the one between teacher and student.

My personal belief is that students are a lot more competent than we ever give them credit for, and sometimes all we need is to do is get out of their way.

I am a Gifted Resource Teacher. In my division, that means we have a lot of leeway in the services we provide our students.  For good or bad, it means I can really individualize and provide a lot of unique experiences to my kids, since I’m NOT locked into a core subject, for the most part. I am responsible to make sure they are challenged, and they grow in all areas–not just their area of strength or the subject I am working with them at a specific time. I do teach a 3rd grade and 5th grade math class 4/5 days a week, but even those classes can be flexibly scheduled, and because I teach the highest performing kids (who are not all identified kids) I can compact the curriculum and still have time to support kids as they  pursue their passions.

At the beginning of the year, I gave my kids wikis and some of them moved, in January, to blogging as well. It is amazing to me to see how they are using the various media and to see what I am learning about them through the  freedom and latitude I give them in these venues. I am learning more about them through this work than I could have ever imagined–I am seeing what they enjoy in their lives outside of school, how much they are motivated to learn, how much they challenge themselves, how much initiative they show and I am discovering what topics and activities truly draw out their passion!

I have become involved in a child’s struggle as she watches a beloved horse begin to slip downhill from a battle with cancer. I listen to her fears and show my compassion for her impending loss.

I am intrigued by another’s grappling to explain thinking processes clearly as she attempts to describe her fascination with and understanding of math through “math tricks.” She also maintains a fictional writing blog called “Duck In for a Story.”

I see leadership in some students  in the wikimail exchanges I read–skills I generally do not see visibly in school.

I watch a young man aspire to become part of a parent’s passion as he begins an independent study on Shakespeare in 5th grade.

I am amazed at just how GEEKY some of these kids are and how fast they figure out how to embed videos, create Google polls with Google forms and analyze the responses they get in spreadsheets.

I support them as they they ask to figure out why we are having such an unusually cold and snowy winter.

I have a 10 year old girl who wants to know how computers work on the inside–even to the differences between laptops and desktop machines.

I have another who is enthralled with the digital fabrication lab we have, wanting to create a 3-D eagle that really can fly. (She is trying to decide whether she wants to major in physics in college or become a veterinarian, as she writes passionately about her riding on her “Horsin’ Around” blog.)

My 8 yo third graders have created an Earth Protection Club on a wiki–their description of it says, “The Earth Protection club is about saving the earth and ways to clean up the earth so we can have a better place to live!” They talk about protecting endangered animals and getting together to clean up the environment. I believe these are pretty hefty goals for very young children!

I only have 2 who are heavily into gaming–but as they share code to play the games better across their wikimail, I realize again how much we underestimate  students’ abilities, how much the rote learning opportunities provided in school must bore them.

Yet, many of my kids said to me yesterday  (after returning to school from nearly a two week closure of schools due to weather) that they were so happy to be back and they hoped we got to keep coming to school. When I asked why, a HUGE part of their wanting to be back was the face to face social interactions and the mentoring and support they receive from intelligent others. They KNOW they don’t know everything, nor do they know HOW to learn everything they want to learn–and they want that support to learn and understand deeply.

And, as for assessment, I DO know what my kids know and need to learn in much of their assigned grade level curricular areas.

Exploring all of this UNASSIGNED work the students do OUTSIDE of school,  I can clearly talk with parents and the students about the strengths and weaknesses they have in the areas of literacy.  I can make lesson plans and personalize the lessons to individuals or small group to target the skills they will be tested on in the state writing tests they will take in a couple of weeks.

Yes, it takes time for me to look through the work they do.

Yes, some are more motivated than others to produce on the web in these areas.

Yes, the work is not done on any particular timeline that fits MY schedule.

BUT the student work is authentic, it engages them in real world topics,  it gives them choice, allows for novelty and variety and they learn from one another as they explore what others are studying and we share, discuss and delve into their projects together in class. (See the Schlechty Center’s work on engagement.)

It IS powerful learning.

It IS powerful engagement.

It is NOT compliance.

And, we are all confident they will pass the tests with flying colors.

8 thoughts on “Authenticity- Learning and Assessment

  1. Yes! There is no teaching, there is only learning, as Socrates said. A school should provide an environment where students want to learn, and where they can learn (paraphrasing Frank Smith). Do that, and children will do amazing things.


    But then all the non-educational goals of schooling interfere: conformity, good citizenship, job training, consumerism, patriotism, etc.

  2. Thanks, Eric, for your thoughtful response. I would say, though, that those “non-educational goals” are all embedded in what my kids do, on their own (except for perhaps, conformity!). So many times we spend TOO MUCH time teaching what kids do instinctively–and all we really need to do is bring it to their consciousness. 🙂

    I am an idealist, and have done similar kinds of teaching and learning with ALL kinds of learners. It IS all about he community we set up, in many, many ways.

    Learning is so often NOT the emphasis in school–it is teaching, as you imply–and as you quote, learning should be the forefront and our focus.

    Again, thanks for responding.


  3. Thank you! Wonderfully put!

    My EDM310 students (aspiring teachers at the University of South Alabama) will begin commenting on reflective blogs by teachers next week. They are already commenting on kids blogs (#comments4kids started by @wmchamberlain) and on the blogs of other students in their class. They will “follow” a blog for three weeks, then post their comments on their own blog. This will last 9 weeks with students switching the blogs they follow. They will be required to leave comments on blogs they follow as they read the posts. If no new posts are present, they will read an earlier post. There are two objectives for this: 1) Share the reflections and ideas of other teachers (a virtual field placement) and 2) to hopefully give them an example leading to their own regular reflection when they become professionals. What I hope is that they will continue to be reflective practitioners long after they leave my class. Who knows whether this will happen. Watch for them. They start 2/22.

  4. Paula, You hit a strong chord with me. I have maintained for years that I am most effective when I point the students in the right direction and then get out of their way. That is when I see the most remarkable discovery and learning. If I try to direct too much then both the students and myself suffer.

    Thank you for so eloquently stating what I strive to achieve.

  5. Thanks, John, looking forward to interacting with them! Please remind them to leave a link to their blog as well, so we can respond to them also. 🙂

  6. Brad, Thank you for your kind words. I wish more teachers in my division thought like us. 🙂 Kids are SO amazing, aren’t they?

  7. Pingback: students are a lot more competent than we ever give them credit for

  8. Pingback: Why Can’t My Kids’ Writing Be Proof They Can Write? « Cooperative Catalyst

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