Monday, October 17, 2016

Traditional Assessment Isolates Learning, Devalues Community and Collaboration | the becoming radical

Traditional Assessment Isolates Learning, Devalues Community and Collaboration | the becoming radical:

Traditional Assessment Isolates Learning, Devalues Community and Collaboration

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I attended junior high well before the rise of the middle school; therefore, I did not enter high school until 10th grade.
But the greatest shift for me as a student was my sophomore English class taught by Lynn Harrill. Throughout junior high, English class has been a never-ending Sisyphean hell of grammar textbook exercises and a sentence-diagramming marathon throughout 9th grade.
I entered high school a devoted math and science student—but more importantly, I had written essentially nothing of consequence as a student, ever.
Until Mr. Harrill’s class, in which we wrote two essays that sophomore year.
My close friends were a somewhat smaller subset of the so-called “top” students who were tracked in the honors classes. We were both socially and academically close.
By my senior year, we had begun to peer-edit our essays—which we feared was cheating because the workshop approach to teaching writing was not in practice yet and we had as “good students” learned all the unspoken lessons of schooling.
From “Cover your papers” during tests to “Don’t copy your friend’s homework,” we knew that collaboration was cheating—but my close circle of friends also knew something very important: when we were collaborative, we learned, and we learned in ways that surpassed traditional teacher-centered learning.
We were each other’s spell checkers, grammar editors, and unofficial peer-teachers.
Despite the rise of the National Writing Project and the mostly widespread awareness of process writing (although it remains too often misunderstood and mischaracterized), students throughout K-12 and university education experience traditional assessment in isolation—significantly one of the least authentic aspects of traditional assessment.
Throughout my 30-plus-year career, I have advocated for and practiced de-testing and de-grading, but during the more recent 14-plus years at the university level, I have been able to experiment more fully with how this looks in the classroom.
One element of authentic assessment and feedback for students that I have explored is moving away from assessment that isolates and toward collaborative assessment, assessment opportunities that require and emphasize community.
While university professors benefit from much greater professional autonomy than K-12 teachers, university’s still require grades and mid-term/final exams; notably, these exam sessions are pretty strictly regulated in that professors need to show some use of the exam times/days for assessment.
Since I give no tests (a practice I started while a public school English teacher), I have developed mid-term sessions that are collaborative and discussion-based.
For example, each fall my first-year writing seminars and foundations of education class have assignments that build toward spending the actual mid-term exam time in small and whole group discussions.
Class discussions as mid-term exams pose several significant problems in the context of traditionalTraditional Assessment Isolates Learning, Devalues Community and Collaboration | the becoming radical: 


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