Tag Archives: agile

Meaningful Learning Over the Measurement of Learning

Note: This post is one in a series on The Agile Schools Manifesto that I introduced in an earlier post.

Have you ever had one of those moments? The bell rings to end class and every person in the room jumps with surprise because the engagement level was too high for a trivial detail like the time/space continuum to distract anyone. As everyone begins to transition to the next class period as if waking from a really great dream, you steal a brief moment to revel in the joy of learning as it should be–filled with collaborative curiosity and exploration.

What price would you put on that class period? What would you pay (or how much prep would you be willing to do) in order to guarantee that every class period resulted in the same level of learning as that class period?

Here is a different set of questions: What grade would everyone get for the learning during that class? How would you fit that class into your grade book or share it on the parent portal?

I don’t mean to be a buzzkill, but I’m afraid that too often in school meaningful learning is subordinated by our over-emphasis on measuring learning. I know that the dream class as described above (they do happen!) involved quality learning, but I don’t have to think long about a string of those classes in a row before I start getting this nagging sense of guilt from the empty columns of my PowerSchool grade book (see my post on individuals over tools). Even though I know that great learning took place during that dream class, the difficulty of measuring and reporting it in the context of a typical school system actually makes me question myself and the planning that led to the highly engaged class.

“But if I can’t measure the learning, how do I know there was any learning at all?” Agile education and I are not saying that measurement of learning is unimportant, but rather that the learning is a higher aim and priority than our ability to measure it. And, when it comes to learning, measurement isn’t the exact science we attempt to make out to be. It can be falsely comforting to stick with easy to measure assessments that are “straightforward” and “airtight” on PowerSchool or during Parent/Teacher conferences, but that tendency helps perpetuate a culture of chasing after grades instead of focusing on learning.

We can assess the learning of that dream class, but it won’t be communicated by a 7.5 out of 10 on a quiz. No, the dream class learning will be revealed by observation and conversation, reflection and anecdote. This type of evidence is no less valid or important than neat and tidy columns of quiz scores. Formative assessments and professional observations are vital components of practice that prioritizes meaningful learning over the measurement of learning.

Of course, let’s measure learning, but let’s find ways for our measurements to support meaningful learning. Collect anecdotal evidence and video feedback from students. Paste urls for Padlet walls or Google Shared folders into columns/comments in your digital grade book or parent portal. Pack portfolios full of formal and informal artifacts of learning. As the new school year begins, let’s commit to finding and sharing practical new assessments that better support a long string of dream classes and that communicate all the dreamy and essential learning to parents, students, colleagues, and ourselves.

 

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Individuals and Interactions Over Processes and Tools

Note: This post is the first in a series on The Agile Schools Manifesto that I introduced in an earlier post.

I do love my gadgets and tools. I rarely leave my local bike shop without another freewheel remover or cone wrench, and I’m always up for a conversation about which apps you are using. There is nothing inherently wrong with tools. I could not have prepared my bike for its daily ride to school without my bottom bracket adjustable cup wrench, and it would take a mighty big plan ‘B’ in my class if Google Drive went down.

It would be easy for this post to devolve into a rant about how smartphones in our classrooms distract us and that we get so hung up on the tools and learning how to use them that our focus drifts from the learning outcomes to the tools themselves. Certainly the tools could distract us; especially when they are new and we are learning how to use them. However, I generally believe practicing teachers quickly recognize distraction and do a pretty good job of owning their tools instead of letting the tools own them. No, the real potential danger of tools and processes are much deeper and more subtle than simple distraction.

Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death and Technopoly) in a conference keynote at the end of the 20th century said:

Embedded in every technology there is a powerful idea, sometimes two or three powerful ideas. These ideas are often hidden from our view because they are of a somewhat abstract nature. But this should not be taken to mean that they do not have practical consequences.

Perhaps you are familiar with the old adage that says: To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail. We may extend that truism: To a person with a pencil, everything looks like a sentence. To a person with a TV camera, everything looks like an image. To a person with a computer, everything looks like data. I do not think we need to take these aphorisms literally. But what they call to our attention is that every technology has a prejudice. Like language itself, it predisposes us to favor and value certain perspectives and accomplishments.

Beyond technology’s potential for distraction is the bigger question, “How are our tools shaping us?” What prejudices and values are inherent in the tools we use? The Agile Schools manifesto wants us to value people and their interactions more than tools and processes. I think many people would agree with that priority. However, it is my contention that prioritizing people is only possible if we are thoughtful and intentional about our tools. If we are unaware of the value-shaping tendency of tools, then it is entirely possible that any time and energy spent on relationship building will be undermined by our tools. I’ll give an educational example.

Several years ago, many schools began using digital grade books and parent portals in order to increase and improve the efficiency, transparency, and communication of assessment (For now I’ll avoid discussing the other, more pessimistic reasons for open grade books). The early digital tools only allowed for columns of numbers that averaged to a percentage. This encouraged and reinforced a task-based classroom structure, and while parents were potentially more knowledgeable about classroom assignments, communication didn’t necessarily improve. Parent/Teacher conferences focused more and more on the tasks and the marks rather than the student and his/her learning. It didn’t take me long to figure out that the answer to avoiding an awkward conversation about the validity of my marks was…more tasks and marks to justify my marks! (Yes, I’m confessing here.)

The tool that was hailed as a way to improve communication actually inhibited it. Instead of discussing students and their learning with parents in a way that would allow us to build relationships and learn from each other, we were discussing marks. The tool’s bias in favour of tasks had me creating more tasks to satisfy administrative guidelines and justify marks which actually inhibited my relationships with parents, students, and administration! Yes, I was using the tool poorly, but the tool itself was biased toward process, not people.

Others, like George Couros has here, have already written about how technology can be used to build relationship. Teachers want to build relationship because we know it is an important way to set the stage for quality learning. In order to prioritize individuals and interactions over processes and tools, we need to support each other in selecting tools that are biased in favour of relationship. For example, this semester I chose to use the tool, EduSight Notes (as I wrote about here) precisely because it would create a routine that would help build relationship. I think it will help infuse community-building into the very structure and processes of my practice. The tool will support, not undermine, what I value–the students I’m teaching and learning with.

That, paradoxically, is how I can write an entire post about valuing people over tools while focusing mainly on tools. Through collective reflective practice, let’s find the tools that best support our values.

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Agile Education: Not Necessarily an Oxymoron

Of all the adjectives applied to education, “agile” would seem to be a sarcastic choice. Education is typically about as agile as an elephant. However, coming from the business and software development fields, “agile” may be just the adjective and philosophy that education needs. If you’d like to learn more about agile, particularly agile in education, you can check out Agile Classrooms and this article on agile learning. My aim over several blog posts is to briefly reflect on the four basic values of the Agile Schools Manifesto:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Meaningful learning over the measurement of learning
  • Stakeholder collaboration over complex negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

Cited From: https://plus.google.com/u/0/101796324413630088793#ixzz3l0MpKuXt

These values (adapted from the Manifesto for Agile Software Development) question the value and priority of some longstanding education practices. Schools love their processes and tools; measurement of learning is the lifeblood of many schools and school systems; and, as the cell is to the body, so the lesson plan is to the school year. Of course tools, measurement, and planning are important components of school life, but the manifesto is a clear call to reflect and to prioritize. So, while assessment and reporting are important, are they more valuable to teachers than meaningful learning? Administrators can and should create processes that help schools run efficiently, but does a focus on routines and procedures have unintended negative effects on individuals and their ability to build community? Over the next few weeks we’ll reflect on what our practice reveals about our values and priorities in the hope of learning from our experience.

“We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.”
― John Dewey

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