Assessment – Caught between two worlds

I have been an educator for 8 years and throughout those years I have learned (and tried) to be more discerning and to question educational practices. My goal – common to many 21st C educators – is to move away from “doing school” and more towards facilitating true learning.

I started my career in the Ontario system of education which provided me with a great foundation. Then I became an IB educator which really pushed and challenged my thinking about teaching and learning. The more my understanding grew and changed, the more I realized that although some of the practices I picked up as a teacher in Ontario could be transposed into my new practice as a PYP teacher, other practices no longer seemed to fit.

And then there are the practices that I’m still not sure about. Sometimes I feel caught between both worlds and have trouble figuring out which “best practices” from non-IB systems support true learning and which merely help students get better at “doing school”.

Many of these conundrums for me center around assessment specifically….

Namely success criteria, exemplars and bump it up walls. 

When I started my teaching career in Ontario I used all three of these things. They helped my students “do well” on summatives. They increased “achievement” in my class. They provided students with a clear pathway to “success” on the rubric. But now I question – were they really helping my students learn? Or were they merely helping my students get better at “doing school”?

I’m not sure, but before I move back into the classroom I sure would like to figure it out!

Should these practices be packed in our “international educator suitcases” when we leave home to be brought with us and transposed into our PYP practice?

 Do these practices truly support learning, or do they just help students “do school” really, really well? 

I’d love to hear your thoughts… 

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5 thoughts on “Assessment – Caught between two worlds

  1. Melissa K. May 14, 2016 / 2:18 pm

    I’ve always felt like success criteria and bump it up walls constrict learning and make it very teacher focused. In theory, if my students are really inquiring into a subject they may very well learn something that was never included in our PYP bubble planner, that I would never think to include as part of our success criteria/bump it up wall, and that’s fantastic! That spontaneous learning needs to be encouraged and celebrated. In addition, learning in the PYP should be authentic, problem-based, thought provoking, transdisciplinary and engaging. Life doesn’t have success criteria, I’ve never been able to look at a bump it up wall when trying to decide how best to solve a problem, and usually when I look at these two tools I want to fall asleep. I also worry that if we’re being really transdisciplinary the list of success criteria would be so long and the flow of the bump it up wall would be so convoluted I’m not sure it would actually help students, especially ELL students.
    I think that in order to be used in a PYP context they have to be adapted and made to be more student-centred. Exemplars can be useful, if they are student created and diverse. If a Grade 5 student is shown one example of a E exhibition project created the previous year, that’s going to encourage mimicry. If you show a variety of exhibition projects from past years that can inspire conversations around what an E or C project can look like. Let students inquire into, determine and write the success criteria. Let them make the bump it up wall. Or make your bump it up wall a series of thought provoking questions that the students can turn to instead of coming to you all the time (kind of like these: http://www.teachthought.com/critical-thinking/questioning/100-questions-that-help-students-think-about-thinking/).

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    • tbondclegg May 15, 2016 / 4:42 am

      Melissa, thank you SO much for your comments! I think your perspective is bang on!

      “constrict learning” “teacher focused” “convoluted” “mimicry” versus “spontaneous” “authentic” “transdisciplinary” “life”.

      How do you think we can best support educators who are transitioning into the PYP to let go of – or redefine – these “best practices” that they are used to from home?

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      • Melissa K. May 22, 2016 / 4:28 pm

        And now that report cards are (mostly) done I can actually respond 😛

        I think one of the biggest shifts that I’m still learning to make is going from teaching standards, to helping my students understand concepts and central ideas through inquiry. What does that mean? What does it look like when it’s successful? I’m still struggling to figure that out, but what I have realized is that it’s such a different framework from what I was taught at university, that many of the teaching techniques and strategies I was instructed on are not relevant. Once you realize that your prior knowledge doesn’t fit, the search begins to find new tools or ways to adapt old tools.

        Having mentor teachers who work with the same or similar age groups, who are further on their PYP journey around and available to give advice, insights and model what a PYP education can look like is hugely beneficial. Even just having the blogs of my mentor teachers from IICS (a PYP school in Istanbul that I did one of my teaching practicums at) to look at has been really helpful, especially since many of their units are very similar to ours. It’s hard to come up with this stuff on your own, or even with a team of other newbies.

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