Performance-based assessment in the 21st century – two perspectives #PBA

Two of my ed-leader heroes have written about performance-based assessment, PARCC, and the future of testing…

  1. Performance Task Assessment: 10 Things for Educators to Think About, posted by Jonathan Martin

  2. What Was the Question To Which PARCC Is the Answer?, posted by Mary Ann Reilly

Process Post and Resources: Contemplating 21st C Ed, PBL, and Common Core State Standards – a Thought Board in Progress

[Disclaimer: This post may not make any sense to anyone but me. I am researching 21st C education trends, project-based learning, social and civic responsibility, school transformation, and Common Core State Standards. All through the lens of strategic re-design of school of the future. What follows below is some of the thought-board I am developing, and I felt compelled to share at least some of what I am discovering and thinking about…]

Today, during a Skype conversation with a trusted and highly respected educational colleague, I heard a couple of interesting threads of commentary that have led me on a fascinating research exploration for much of the day.

One of the folks here says PBL is dead. I don’t agree, but there is some strong movement against it.

We call him Pele because he knows where the ball is going, and the ball is currently going to the Common Core State Standards.

You breathe rarified air, and there are tremendous hurdles to implementing PBL in an environment overrun with standardized testing and the Common Core.

While I think that significant, meaningful PBL (capital P) has been largely non-existent in the heavily industrial-age influenced school system of the 20th century, I think PBL has thrived as a human learning paradigm for millennia, and I think PBL is alive and well as a learning methodology. In fact, I think PBL dominates learning before formal schooling, and I believe that PBL dominates the workplace of almost all jobs (if not, ALL jobs). I believe that school transformation and enhancement will necessarily include and integrate PBL. Furthermore, I think the Common Core State Standards not only support PBL, but I believe they demand it! [And I continue to mean capital-P PBL!]

Exploring Edutopia’s Resources for Understanding the Common Core State Standards, I worked on a thought board, and I am capturing a few bits and pieces here…

Intriguing videos from Hunt Institute YouTube channel regarding the CCSS:

  • The English Language Arts Standards: Key Changes and their Evidence

    At the end of the video, David Coleman speaks of “reading like a detective and writing like an investigative journalist.” From my own studying and implementation of capital-P project-based learning, I can think of few other methodologies that create the space and opportunity for student learners to be detectives and investigative journalists who are wrestling with real-life issues that need addressing and innovating.

  • Literary Non-Fiction in the Classroom: Opening New Worlds for Students

    Watching this piece was fascinating! I was both inspired and frightened stiff. On the frightening end, I pictured teachers who take David Coleman’s analysis literally as the recommended pedagogy for deconstructing Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Birmingham letter and removing many possibilities for self-motivated discovery and heart-touching. At the inspiring end, I was moved by MLK’s language and by thinking about a group of students searching for this letter after engaging with a community issue about fairness, justice, equality, and rights. I imagined this letter as a digestible resource for students who created a need-to-know about the letter because of the context with which they approached the letter. [Interestingly, I never experienced this letter as part of my formal, school-based education. In fact, I am embarrassed to admit that this video viewing may have been the first time I read the entire letter. The content reminded me of many of the reasons that I am working for school reform and transformational enhancement.]

Quotes from the CCSS website that point to PBL:

Research—both short, focused projects (such as those commonly required in the workplace) and longer term in depth research —is emphasized throughout the standards but most prominently in the writing strand since a written analysis and presentation of findings is so often critical.
– Writing:

An important focus of the speaking and listening standards is academic discussion in one-on-one, small-group, and whole-class settings. Formal presentations are one important way such talk occurs, but so is the more informal discussion that takes place as students collaborate to answer questions, build understanding, and solve problems.
– Speaking and Listening:

The standards help prepare students for real life experience at college and in 21st century careers.
– Language:

The standards stress not only procedural skill but also conceptual understanding, to make sure students are learning and absorbing the critical information they need to succeed at higher levels – rather than the current practices by which many students learn enough to get by on the next test, but forget it shortly thereafter, only to review again the following year.
– Math:

  • The high school standards call on students to practice applying mathematical ways of thinking to real world issues and challenges; they prepare students to think and reason mathematically.
  • The high school standards set a rigorous definition of college and career readiness, by helping students develop a depth of understanding and ability to apply mathematics to novel situations, as college students and employees regularly do.
  • The high school standards emphasize mathematical modeling, the use of mathematics and statistics to analyze empirical situations, understand them better, and improve decisions. For example, the draft standards state: “Modeling links classroom mathematics and statistics to everyday life, work, and decision-making. It is the process of choosing and using appropriate mathematics and statistics to analyze empirical situations, to understand them better, and to improve decisions. Quantities and their relationships in physical, economic, public policy, social and everyday situations can be modeled using mathematical and statistical methods. When making mathematical models, technology is valuable for varying assumptions, exploring consequences, and comparing predictions with data.”
    – Math:

Literacy equals mastery across academic disciplines.
– Callout in Hunt Institute video about CCSS

At the intersection and confluence of 21st century education and project-based learning, we would have:

  1. Personal learning, as explained by @MaryAnnReilly
  2. Education Systems that Support Innovation, as questioned by @FusionJones (Aran Levasseur)
  3. Greater understanding of What does it mean to be learned?, by David Warlick
  4. Commitment to Helping Students Become Active Citizens, by Margaret Haviland
  5. Schools that play matchmaker between world issues and adolescent energy, by Bo Adams
  6. Educators designing high-quality PBL to engage students with learning innovation, by Thom Markham
  7. Lessons from Lehrer’s Imagine for Cultivating Student Creativity, by Jonathan E. Martin
  8. Design thinking and iterative prototyping built into the program [see MVPS, Nuevo School, Beaver Country Day School & NuVu, etc.]
  9. Purposeful presentations over PowerPoint(less) ones, by Jeff Delp
  10. Value the Immeasurable, by Will Richardson

Videos that have profoundly shaped my viewpoint on 21st Century Education and the Future of Schools…Schools of the Future:

It’s all connected! And there’s so much more! It’s about learning.

Process Post – Exploring Lines of Flight, Orchestrating and Coordinating #Innovation, and Other Murmurations


“Birds of a feather flock together.” How is it that various flocks of birds fly together in non-linear formation? How exactly do they communicate with each other to cut and cross paths in synchronized patterns? Is there a captain or a conductor or a coordinator? Do zigzagging birds rotate those roles of captain, conductor, or coordinator, like geese flying in a more linear V alternate as leads and followers? What exactly provides the connective tissue that molds together the mass of modulated majesty?

How could we “school people” learn to mimic the great flocks of birds that swarm together in tight, rhythmic formation? Biomimicry may be the way of the future, especially if we hope to innovate in the sustainable manner in which natural organisms innovate in response to their surrounding, environmental changes. In schools, we would do well to investigate and study the lines of flight that reveal a more organic pattern of collaborative learning.

Chapter 1 – Lines of Flight

Mary Ann Reilly, with her blog Between the By-Road and the Main Road, has me thinking a lot about birds. More specifically, Reilly has me contemplating lines of flight. In her post entitled “Reimagining Learning as Lines of Flight,” Reilly cites several definitions – better thought of here as contemplations or meanderings – for the term “lines of flight.”

Martin Wood and Sally Brown (2009) write: “A line of flight is essentially a movement of creativity, a practical act or a way of living that wards off or inhibits the formation of ‘centres’ and stable powers in favor of continuous variation and free action.” from here (Reilly, “Reimagining Learning as Lines of Flight,” n. pag.)

Then, Reilly switches to a second meandering and explains with a humongous string of comma-connected items that a line of flight is something like a tracer as “learners traverse and abandon, producing maps of their learning as they move.” (Reilly, “Reimagining Learning as Lines of Flight,” n. pag.) Certainly because of Reilly’s magnificent images that accompany her text, I am able to imagine more accurately the hypothetically traced path of a flying bird – serving as metaphor for the complex flight pattern of our typical, non-linear learning. I can see the hatch-work of tangled mess that really is no mess at all. In the section #6 of this post – “Reimagining Learning as Lines of Flight” – Reilly provides Maria Tamboukou’s diagram of “nomadic trajectories,” which further support the visualization of a line of flight for some winged creature such as a darting starling or meandering martin or frenetic finch – analogously representing the lines of flight we humans take as we move through a day, a week, and a month of interconnected, “messy” thinking and learning. What a gloriously beautiful tangle those lines of flight can be.

Then, in a follow-up post entitled “Exploring Lines of Flight at School (and Not),” Reilly states, “Lines of flight represent the creative impulses we compose while thinking and doing that offer a seemingly novel way to disrupt concepts cast as dualities.” (Reilly, “Exploring Lines of Flight at School (and Not),” n. pag.) Lines later, Reilly poses some traversal questions – the kind of inquiries that make you cross back in your thinking multiple times…the kind that create complex lines of flight:

  1. How do we attend to the creative impulses of learners that occur outside the domain of the school and challenge binary ways of knowing—ways we might well be situating as truth?
  2. What types of environmental and pedagogical considerations might be necessary in order to leverage/cull/come to know such thinking?
  3. How might we ‘carefully’ come to know and invite in (if possible) these lines of flight within the classroom and/or the ‘sanctioned’ learning?
  4. How often do we stop and acknowledge how little we know about our learners’ learning lives beyond our purview?
  5. How might lines of flight de/colonize classrooms?
  6. How do lines of flight engender inquiry as opposed to categorization?
  7. All knowing is constructed. How do lines of flight offer us a method to reduce our binary ways of knowing that may overpopulate a classroom?

Because of the visual organization of Reilly’s blog, these stirring questions seem almost to grow – to rise in flight – out of a foundational image produced by Reilly, and the image captures the real essence of our foolishness that learning is in any way bound by the four walls of a classroom – proverbial or real. If we are not mindful, our classroom thinking can trend toward thinking inside a box – literally and figuratively – as we categorize thinking into neatly bundled packages called math, science, English, and history. But are we really doing all we can to catalyze genuine inquiry in our young learners that we label as students? Are we encouraging the zigzags of natural lines of flight – the biomimicked version of a bird on the wind? Do we nourish questioning and integrate outside-of-class thinking, or do we squelch such because we have so much to cover in 180 days?

Clearly, Justin Tarte’s line of flight is intersecting Reilly’s line of flight. In his “What do you see…?” post from November 20, among other postulates of zigzagginess, Tarte questions:

If you are assigning work to be completed outside of school, do you see the other time commitments and constraints your students may have or do you see homework as more important than family and/or interests and hobbies? If you discover that a student is passionate about something that is not related to your content, do you see it as an opportunity to connect and relate your content to his/her passion or do you see his/her passion as something that is getting in the way of his/her learning? (Tarte, n. pag.)

What wonder might emerge if we school people acted more as travel agents or air traffic controllers who coordinated various trips and travels than if we kept the planes in the hangers of our cordoned-off sections of tarmacked airports?

[Ah, my own line of flight has taken me askew. And I am mixing metaphors as I am learning what I think by watching what I write. But now I am zigzagged back across a previous tracer line…]

Throughout Reilly’s posts, though, I tended to picture a single, solitary bird flying in zigzagged lines of flight, following such a tracer path as that white lightening bolt included in the foundational image emblazoned in Reilly’s “Exploring Lines of Flight at School (and Not).” But I am more interested in FLOCKS of birds – how hundreds and thousands of birds can fly together in synchronized patterning…like those starlings on Otmoor in the YouTube video that opened this post.

Holds those thoughts for a moment. I promise to return to them, but I must tell another story…such is my zigzagging line of flight.

Chapter 2 – Innovation Strategist as Orchestra Director or Offensive Coordinator

Recently, on one of his lines of flight, Jonathan Martin (@jonathanemartin) was kind enough to tweet about a blog post that I wrote a few weeks back – “May seem roundabout, but it’s an exhilarating intersection.” Jonathan forwarded my notion that we need R&D Director of Innovation positions inside schools. A follower of Jonathan’s, @mrsdurkinmuses, agreed but argued that each of us should have that role already. Then, their dialogue of tweets turned down a path of funding contemplations. Perhaps that is where their lines of flight took them. [If you are not familiar with Twitter, the following conversation exists in reverse chronological order.]

Upon much reflection, I absolutely agree that all school leaders should willingly and enthusiastically be taking on the mantle of innovator. However, from working with a division full of innovators for the past several years, I see that we can all be like those lone starlings, martins, or finches. Even with care taken towards collaborative work habits, we school people can tend to return to our classrooms and fly our own individual flight patterns – our silo-ed lines of flight. Occasionally we might intersect; in fact, we are likely to intersect. But these intersections are often chance encounters facilitated by serendipity and chance more than by planning and intent.

What if we flew as a flock? What if we became more birds of a feather? What if schools of the future steered more purposefully toward the future of schools by coordinating the lines of innovative flight? I do not mean to create irony here. I am not calling for standardization of practice, and I am not meaning to disqualify that “continuous variation and free action” that Wood and Brown defined as the creative movement of a line of flight. However, I am wondering what we school people might be able to accomplish by way of navigating more as a flock, moving in a mass of modulated majesty. Yes, we should all play our own instruments or positions, but how are we coordinating and strategizing our play?

Would an orchestra be able to create its majestic music without the swirlings of a director or conductor? Would the music sound as melodic or sweet? Would a football team be able to function as a coordinated whole, composed of unequal parts linemen, running backs, wide receivers, and quarterback, without the expert coaching from an offensive coordinator? Would the game be as purposefully exciting? Who serves in the comparable role for a school? Who weaves together the complex lines of flight of the creative masters of education – the teachers – while employing a determined focus to research and development…along a roadmap of intentional travel? Is it the school head? Is it the principal? Is it the curriculum coordinator? The department chairs? The superintendent? Can the people mantled with those titles and responsibilities devote enough majority attention to R&D and strategic, systemic innovation?

Much is being written about innovation. To name but a few:

But, in each case, notice where that apostrophe accents. That precise punctuation calls attention to the singular possessive. What if we moved that apostrophe to the outside of the letter S, and what if we forced the plural possessive? Has the book been written that tells us of how we might fly as a flock by embracing and empowering the innovators’ conductor? The innovators’ coordinator? The innovators’ connector? The innovators’ director or strategist?

In summarizing and translating Dyer, Gregersen, and Christensen with his recent post “18 Tips for Becoming Better Educational Innovation Leaders: Advice from Christensen’s Innovator’s DNA,” Jonathan Martin’s list may be the closest current thing to such a book that deals with possible macro-lines of flight for inspiring and facilitating the innovative efforts for flocks of progressive educators. Bill Ferriter also comes close to providing some serious “book chapters,” too, in his Tempered Radical posts:

However, both of my very respected colleagues, Martin and Ferriter, may still remain as in-satiated and still-curious as I am about how to actually serve as an orchestra-like conductor or an offensive-like coordinator for directing and coaching a mass of modulated majesty of ENTIRE SCHOOLS acting as FLOCKS in such synchronized innovation. Is it enough to inspire and motivate a school-full of innovating teachers and staff? Most certainly, to inspire and motivate such is a fabulous and necessary start. But it is my experience that these innovations often remain segregated by walls that separate math class from science class, as well as by those that separate English class from history class.

Like the sound waves that blend in the airspace surrounding an orchestra playing a symphony, and like the commentated, chalk-line routes that define a football team working in offensive harmony, how do we blend and harmonize the departmentalized learning that is occurring in most disciplined classrooms of specific, segregated subject matter? Schools of the future must assuredly be tearing down walls that prevent such blending and harmonizing. And when we do, we must work as educational leaders to ensure that the resulting sounds, coming from previously impermeable containers, combine in reinforcing frequencies rather than in cancelling frequencies or noisy cacophonies. We need to work to make beautiful music.

I’d like to schedule a trip to that whole-school destination! I would like to trace that line of flight! How do all of those starlings on Otmoor know to turn, gee, and haw together?! How do they conduct their coordinated flight? How do they mold into that mass of modulated majesty? How might we “school people” develop that biomimicked synergy?

On to fly…in the zeal of zigzags…as a member of the flock, not alone.

Chapter 3 – Murmurations of Symphonic Innovation

[Coming soon…as my line of flight takes me there with my flock.]


Reilly, Mary Ann. “Exploring Lines of Flight at School (and Not)” ( Between the By-Road and the Main Road. Nov. 22, 2011. Google Reader via Feeddler.

Reilly, Mary Ann. “Reimagining Learning as Lines of Flight” ( Between the By-Road and the Main Road. Nov. 18, 2011. Google Reader via Feeddler.

Tarte, Justin. “What do you see…?” ( Connected Principals. Nov. 20, 2011. Google Reader via Feeddler.