Tag Archives: priorities

The Problem With “Measure”


One of the biggest blessings in my life is my marriage; I love my wife.

When I dislocated my knee (twice!) I experienced pain.

I can react with anger when personally confronted with injustice.

Joy warms my entire being when one of my daughters suddenly slips her hand into mine as we walk.

With some thought and effort I believe I could describe my love, pain, anger, and joy to you. Perhaps I could even express some degree of the intensity of those feelings, but I can’t measure them. My wife is pretty good at assessing my frustration, and my doctor does her best to assess my pain as she seeks to alleviate it and diagnose its cause, but neither of them are engaging in measurement.

Measurement requires a standard unit of measurement, a recognized standard that can be objectively applied in proper context. I can measure my bike ride to school in units of length (centimetres or kilometres). If I share that measurement with my colleague who also pedals to school, we can objectively compare that element of our commutes and determine who travels the greatest distance each day. What isn’t measurable or objectively comparable is the peace that the twenty minute ride brings to my day.

When it comes to measurement, learning fits into the same category as love, pain, anger, joy, and peace of mind. Learning can’t be objectively measured. There is no standard unit of measurement to apply to “Learning.” A skill can be demonstrated, progress can be noted, understanding can be communicated and shared, but technically this evidence of learning isn’t measurable.

As a teacher I have been moving away from traditional grading because I have recognized the limitations of grades in motivating, communicating, and promoting learning. Part of that journey has included using standards based learning and grading and prioritizing meaningful learning over the measurement of learning. However, I’ve been hanging out with the TG2 crew, and they have me reflecting on the power and importance of the language that we use in our conversations about education.

I wrote the post (linked above) about measurement and learning less than a year ago, but now I feel the word “measure” is fatally flawed when applied to learning. I moved to SBL/SBG to shift attention from grades to learning, and I think it is arguably an  improvement over traditional grades because it can help more clearly communicate learning. However, I hadn’t used SBG long before I realized words like “measure” and “accurate” were popping up in my conversations with colleagues and parents about standards-based learning. The problem with words like “measure” and “accurate” is that they aren’t about learning, they are about grades.

I am not working hard to reimagine my classroom and structures and practices to produce more accurate grades! I want to better nurture learning. The danger of using “measurement” language when we discuss learning is that we will mistakenly believe that we are talking about learning when we are actually perpetuating the very system we are seeking to reform. I have no desire to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic or improve the aesthetics of our scoreboards.

So, what language should we use instead? Any thoughts? For now I’m using “communication” language to help me share learning with students and parents. Also, and forgive the cheesiness, what might happen if we replaced the word “measure” in our conversation with “treasure?” Imagine a world where learning wasn’t measured, but rather, like love and joy and peace, treasured.


Filed under Reflection

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.


Filed under Reflection

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


Filed under Reflection