Inside the Black Box. Simple and Profound Transformations. #Questions #FormativeAssessment

On wait time, the nature of questions, visible thinking, formative assessment and deeper learning:

A particular feature of the talk between teacher and pupils is the asking of questions by the teacher. This natural and direct way of checking on learning is often un-productive. One common problem is that teachers do not allow enough quiet time so that pupils can think out and offer an answer. Where, as often happens, a teacher answers her or his own question after only two or three seconds, and where a minute (say) of silent thought is not tolerable, there is no possibility that a pupil can think out what to say. There are then two consequences. One is that, because the only questions that can produce answers in such a short time are questions of fact, these predominate. The other is that pupils don’t even try to think out a response—if you know that the answer, or another question, will come along in a few seconds, there is no point in trying. It is also common that only a few pupils in a class answer teachers’ questions. The rest then leave it to these few, knowing that they cannot respond as quickly and being unwilling to risk making mistakes in public. So the teacher, by lowering the level of questions and by accepting answers from a few, can keep the lesson going but is actually out of touch with the understanding of most of the class—the question-answer dialogue becomes a ritual, one in which all connive and thoughtful involvement suffers.

There are several ways to break this particular cycle. They involve giving pupils time to respond, asking them to discuss their thinking in pairs or in small groups so that a respondent is speaking on behalf of others, giving pupils a choice between different possible answers and asking them to vote on the options, asking all to write down an answer and then reading out a selected few, and so on. What is essential is that any dialogue should evoke thoughtful reflection in which all pupils can be encouraged to take part, for only then can the formative process start to work.

Inside the Black Box
Raising Standards Through Classroom Assessment

Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam

In those few sentences above, one can find some of the simplest and easiest methods to transform teaching and learning in significant and profound ways.

If you spend time visiting and observing classrooms in this country, you know that we all can improve on the methods suggested above.

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NOTE: Just about everything that I have read about assessment in the last decade references and/or connects in some way to Black & Wiliam’s article “Inside the Black Box.” Yet I wonder how many educators have taken the time to read it, study it, and strive to implement it. And, I do not mean to sound accusatorial. I genuinely wonder.

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?


Leading Learners to Level Up #MICON12

On Wednesday, June 13, Bo Adams and Jill Gough are  facilitating a session at The Martin Institute’s 2012 Conference (#MICON12 on Twitter) on formative assessment entitled Leading Learners to Level Up.

Leveled formative assessment that offers learners the ability to calibrate understanding with expectations and, at the same time, shows the path to the next level will improve learning and teaching. Use assessment to inform learners where they are on the learning spectrum, where the targets are, and how to level up.

Leading Learners to Level Up (Framework plans) [50 minutes]

  1. Formative Assessment presentation [15 minutes]
  2. Examples of Leveled Formative assessments
    1. Algebra: Linear Functions, Slope [5 minutes]
    2. Synergy: Essential Learnings, Observation Journals [5 minutes]
    3. SMART Goals and other PLC examples [5 minutes]
  3. Use PollEverywhere to decide the next step:  many individual/pair workshopped rubrics or mini individual workshopped rubric to then share out to whole group (like faculty web presence; group work – engaged participation) [5 minutes]
  4. Participant workshop time to develop leveled assessment for use with learners   [10 minutes + 10 minutes to share out & wrap up]

[Cross-posted at Experiments in Learning by Doing]

Completing the Square / Leading by Following

On Saturday, September 17, Jill Gough and I were privileged to provide the keynote address for the 2011 Regional T³/MCTM Annual Conference. Conference Director Jennifer Wilson facilitated a wonderfully effective learning opportunity for teachers, administrators, pre-service teachers, college professors, and others.

From the beginning, the program cover-art fascinated Jill and me. The conference theme was “Completing the Square,” and the image pictured a puzzle with a missing piece in the center. To build our keynote address, Jill and I imagined what that missing puzzle piece might be that would truly complete the square. Additionally, we threaded our talk with the idea of Leading by Following.

Believing in the powerful nature of stories, Jill and I told four stories to illuminate some puzzling issues facing educators today:

Puzzle 1: Why do we talk so much of teaching when it’s about LEARNING? Or… “How could they not know this?” [Assessment for Learning]

Puzzle 2: How can we make learning experiences more meaningful? Or… “When are we gonna use this?” [Contextual Learning]

Puzzle 3: Why are teachers and admin “US and THEM” when we all want our students to learn? Or… “You are a fool!” [Learning Partners]

Puzzle 4: Why is teaching an “egg crate culture” when we know learning is social? Or… “WE are smarter than ME.” [Learning Communities]

What do you think the missing piece might be? What completes the square? The following slide deck will lead you on the path that we explored during the keynote. We loved being in this community of learners at Brandon Middle School. It is always a privilege and pleasure to spend time learning with committed and curious educators.

Cross-posted with Jill Gough on her blog, Experiments in Learning by Doing.