Formative assessment IS design thinking. #DTk12Chat

Teachers are designers. Either intentionally or unintentionally, maybe. But teachers are designers.

Some feel that the word, the title, “designer” is being co-opted by too many industries and sectors and professions. But how could one really deny the essence of teacher as designer.

Teachers design with curriculum, learning environment, instructional methodology, and assessment. Together, these elements create pedagogical design.

Because of the heightened attention that design and design thinking are getting, we know more about how great designers design with the needs of the user clearly at the center of the design. Discovery, ethnography, examination, observation, interview – all of these and more are the tools of great design and design thinking.

For the truly intentional, great teachers, formative assessment is an invaluable tool – a system really – to discern the deepest needs of the user… the “student.” Through purposeful use of formative assessment, great teachers – great pedagogical designers – collect critical information by way of discovery (assessment), ethnography (assessment), examination (assessment), observation (assessment), interview (assessment), etc.

But, for these assessments, these tools of discovery and empathy, to be design-employed, the insights gained must be used to inform and transform the pedagogical design for the improvement of the user experience. Better known as “deep learning.”

If an assessment is merely something at the end of instruction to provide a grade for a paper grade book or digital SIS (student information system), then enormous potential is being wasted, underutilized, undervalued. Assessment, used as design tool, can form better design for curriculum, instruction, learning environment, assessment, etc. To reach this potential, though, we need to be intentional as designers.

If you are pursuing design thinking at your school, perhaps you are using the d.School model:

  • Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, Test.

Or perhaps you are using the model from Design Thinking for Educators:

  • Discovery, Interpretation, Ideation, Experimentation, Evolution.

At Mount Vernon, we’ve developed our own model of design thinking:

  • DEEP – Discover, Empathize, Experiment, Produce.

Or perhaps you are working to nurture and build innovators and tracking with such work as Innovators DNA, purposefully infusing the known traits of innovation:

  • Observing, Questioning, Experimenting, Networking, Associating.

Among all of these models, and among the practices of the most highly respected designers and design thinkers, empathy lives at a core – through intentional and purposeful discovery, observation, and ethnography – in order to enhance and improve design for the needs of the user.

Assessment – formative assessment – is essential for one to be a design-intentional teacher.

How are you using assessment as a systemic tool for exceptional design? For the user experience? For the learners?


4 thoughts on “Formative assessment IS design thinking. #DTk12Chat

  1. Pingback: Zero-Based Strategy Part 5 of 7: Windows, Not Silos | The Learning Pond

  2. Great post, Bo. It has me thinking about the importance of PLCs for this work. How great would it be for PLCs to serve each other to do the ethnography and empathy work? I think it is really difficult to solve an assessment problem for yourself and your learners. Ego and feelings gets in the way, sometimes, when working with the user of the assessment. “But I did teach..” comes out often when we collect feedback about our own assessments.

    What if (as an example) the English PLC did the interview and empathy work for the Math PLC and vice versa? What if the Math PLC then generated 50 wild and off-the-wall ideas for assessments and presented back to the English PLC for feedback on the first prototype iteration? What if PLCs served each other in this way? What would we learn about each others disciplines? Would we find connections and share best practices? Would we create better and different assessments because we prototyped them with our colleagues and refined them?

    Love the phrase “insights gained must be used to inform and transform.

    Thanks for informing and transforming my thinking!

    • Thanks for great comment, Jill! Love the ideas. As you could guess, I do think this is ideal PLC work, R&D team work, design squad work, etc.

      Mostly, I think the work demands a shift – to strongly seeing assessment as discovery and ethnography (in design) to inform the design of future iterations of curriculum and instruction for the current cohorts of learners. We talk of formative assessment as assessment FOR learning, and I’m hoping to push that to “assessment for design of instruction.”

      So many educators are embracing DT, and we hope they see assessment as part of the DT processes in our work as Ed designers!

  3. Bo,
    It is surprising to me that more teachers/schools have not fully embraced formative assessment, which I have always liked to differentiate as assessment FOR learning rather than assessment OF learning. I can guess that the end-game pressure of testing, etc., has a huge impact here. But formative assessment is one critical place where teachers can break out and make their classroom their own– so I appreciate the design thinking connection. It makes perfect sense!

    I would like to add an additional component to your comments about teachers being designers. Your focus this post is on pedagogical design. One of the most important and critical areas needed to be “designed” by teachers focuses on their connection with their students. So, I like to think that we need to pay more attention to teachers as relationship designers. Using the components of design thinking– whichever one feels more comfortable– teachers will be most likely to be successful with a keen focus on being a relationship designer just as much (perhaps more?) than a pedagogical designer.

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