We hear a lot about 21st century learning in education.
About how computers are going to revolutionize and personalize teaching and learning. In fact there’s even been a government inquiry into digital learning yet the elephant in the room is assessment.
Last month North and South ran an article boldly stating that kids needed to take more control in the classroom from those pesky know it all teachers. The article argues that public school trained teachers are so wedded in the current system that they cannot or will not change their practice to meet the new century.
Yet I often wonder if the problem might not actually be with our teaching practices but with our assessment practices. The article noted that in the early in the 1990s, senior New Zealand pupils had more qualifications in the world. Post implementation of NCEA, New Zealand still has more external testing and qualifications than anywhere in the world.
Perhaps the problem isn’t that the current crop of teachers aren’t innovative, but it is our national obsession with measuring learning that is squeezing innovative teaching practices. Because simply put what gets measured gets done.
In an era where schools have their NCEA and National Standards results put up for scrutiny, I’m sure I’m not on teacher feeling the pressure between that amazing engaging curriculum and ensuring achievement gains as measured by standardized tests for students.
I’m not disputing the importance of qualifications, my own life has been enriched by gaining them. However if in the process of pushing as many students as possible to gain qualifications as possible we’ve turned vast numbers of kids off learning, something is wrong with our school system.
I sit here pondering this as I’m making my reading OTJ on one student. Last year the student didn’t read any books last year, this year the student has read over 30. We have conversations about what book the student is reading, what book the student wants to read next. The student knows exactly which type of books they like to read and will devour them in a few days. I’ve turned a non-reader into a reader yet I’ve spent hours ruminating about getting the OTJ right. The testing points to being just below standard and doubt sinks in. Instead of getting the student to read should I have spent more time on worksheets to get better results? Is that joy and love of reading going to be killed by being labelled below standard?
And that makes me wonder how ever can we have a student-centred personalized education system if we keep insisting on assessment system which is not. We test primarily through pencil and paper. We tell students to sit by themselves, we cut them off from information sources so we can check how much information has been retained and the ones who can retain it the best win.
It all seems so very 1900s in which we used education to sort out who got the manual jobs from those who would go off to run the empire.
So what does 21st century assessment look like?
Is it getting students to sit a multiple choice test on a computer. Surely that is no more an example of 21st century assessment than typing out a hand written essay on word?
Is it using an app to help them sit a pencil and paper exam? Why can’t the kids bring the phone with them? Or even better yet send off their best piece of work to the examiners?
Instead of teaching kids to meekly ask ‘is this good?’ we need to getting them to proclaim “this is my best!”