Old School Assessment

One of my greatest flaws as an educator deals with the notion of assessment. I struggle perpetually about how to assess, what I am truly assessing, and whether or not the tools and methods I select are actually meaningful. I am constantly stealing ideas, reading articles, and lurking in the background trying to discover the secrets of master teachers who have, as it would seem, an innate sense of what good assessment looks like.

Enter my colleague Rachel Collishaw – a Senior Years history teacher from Ottawa who I had the pleasure of visiting with in November at the Governor General Awards:

Rachel is the bee’s knees and when I heard that she was delivering a webinar for Canada’s History on assessment, I was stoked. In the webinar, she spoke of turning the idea of traditional assessment on its head, and seeing the process as a confversation. She asked the big “what if?”  What if a summative assessment was a conversation between people?

Now, this is not a new idea. Humans have been doing this for thousands of years. But for me, it was a new idea in terms of my practice. What if I really wanted to hear what my students knew, what they cared about, and what they could do? What if I could go deeper into their brains and souls without the worry of plagiarism or the idea that they might be trying to conform to a test, as opposed to expressing their ideas?

Based on her inspiration, I decided to take the plunge! Over the course of the year, I realized that I had not developed the relationship with my Grade 9 Canada in the Contemporary World class that I had wanted. Through a perfect storm of inservices, PD, and, and something called Sochi, I had missed quite a bit of face time with this crew. As such, I decided that I needed to have a conversation with them. Their term test at the end of February would be an interview.

As a group, we began to prepare for these interviews. We initially developed a list of content, skills, concepts, experiences, and “big ideas” that we thought were appropriate for discussion. Next, we created a Google Document which contained a list of questions that might elicit the type of responses that would allow us to determine whether or not we had actually learned something over the past few months. From there, we developed an assessment criteria that would help guide whether or not we had to go back and take a second look at things that we may not be sure of. It also helped me create a “mark,” an apparent and necessary evil of the industrialized education model.

The result was perhaps the best assessment that I have ever done. Not only was I able to see into the mids of the learners in my class, but I was able to see where I needed to improve as a teacher. I saw common themes where my teaching lacked (in argument development, for instance), and where certain learners needed some scaffolding. Most importantly, I began to develop a relationship with the students – the cornerstone of collaborative learning.

Here is a sample:

Granted, the oral assessment is not a new idea, but I am eternally thankful to Rachel for kicking me in the assessment pants. I am really looking forward to playing around with this methodology for the years to come. As per usual, I am late to the game in terms of many things related to pedagogy, so I look to you all for guidance.

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Women & Confederation

It seems that all students of Canadian History are taught about the causes of Confederation and about the Fathers of Confederation. It’s a neat little package that helps educators get to the next “unit” and then issue report cards at the end of the term. I find that it’s almost a rite of passage – that is that we must learn this stuff before we are issued our passport, or something.

CBC_Manitoba___The_Mommy_Myth

Taken from CBC.

But what if we looked at Confederation in a more critical light? What if we looked at it from a Chinese or First Nation perspective? What if we put ourselves in the position of women, or as feminist historians? Dr. Lorna Marsden, a former Senator, University president, and currently a sociologist at York University, has attempted to do just that. In her book Canadian Women & The Struggle for Equality, she focuses a great deal on how women were not being considered persons 150 years ago, and that this caused one of the most incredible social movements in modern history.

In Chapter II, Marsden refers to the “Great Flaws of Confederation.” What were these and why is it important to critically analyze them? Why is it important to look at history from all perspectives? Are we obliged to do so? Is it unethical not to do so? How does this relate to Zinn’s understanding of radical history? Let’s discuss!

Here is a review of her book from the Winnipeg Free Press by a former SJR parent, Brenlee Carrington, that might help us. I also find this topic intriguing, firstly because I consider myself  feminist, but also secondly because the CBC is currently running a series entitled The Mommy Myth. Have a look. How does looking at the role of women in history help us deconstruct some of the barriers they face today?