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Four Musts in Redesigning K-12 Education

Bob Lenz

Co-founder and Chief of Innovation, Envision Education, Oakland CA

"How do I assess 170 students deeply?" -- Middle School Teacher

"We love project-based learning but when will we get time to plan with our colleagues?" -- Union Leader

"We want to have our students participate in rigorous project learning but our teachers need to learn how to do it -- it's challenging." -- Middle School Principal

In the last two weeks, I have heard all three of these statements during presentations about project-based learning and student performance-based assessment. These are legitimate and important questions. As we move to redesign our national, state and local curriculum towards preparation for college and career readiness, schools will be inclined to employ a project and performance-based system.

This shift towards deeper learning requires a redesign of our K-12 schools. While redesign can be complex, there are three design shifts that schools can make now that will foster deeper learning, and a fourth that offers hope for the future.

  1. Professional Development: Teachers deserve and need at least three days of targeted professional development every summer to learn these new skills. However that is not enough; the summer professional development needs to be followed up each year with at least two more workshops during the school year. If school systems lack the expertise to provide this type of professional development, they can contract with organizations like the Buck Institute of Education (BIE) or Envision Learning Partners.
  2. Collaboration Time: Teachers need at least 90 minutes per week to collaborate with their colleagues to design, plan, and/or assess student work. Building on the movement for professional learning communities (PLC's), this time needs to well planned, facilitated and productive. This time should make teachers job easier and not be a burden of "another meeting."
  3. Assessment Time: Do the math, if a teacher has to assess 100 deep assignments (no matter what level K-12) and each assessment takes five minutes, this is 500 minutes of time or 8.5 hours. Teachers need to find this time after school since they spend 95 percent of their day with students. We need to build in time for teachers to assess student work. Unless we find time for teachers to assess deep student work they will continue to assign "thin" assignments; it is a matter of survival.
  4. New Technology: New technologies hold a promise to address some of these design challenges. A new online tool, ShowEvidence, claims that it will reduce the time it takes teachers to assess performance-based assessment by 50 percent. This could be a game changer for teachers.

What if we could automate the process of assessing performance work? What if a computer could assess deep student work as well as humans? Last week, the Hewlett Foundation launched a new competition in partnership with OpenEd and hosted on Kaggle.com to automate scoring of deep student work. This type of tool could exponentially increase deep assignments. As Tom Vander Ark explains, "Online essay scoring will improve the quality of state testing, but the real benefit will be the weekly use in classrooms.

Teachers across the curriculum will be able to assign 1500 words a week -- not 1500 words a semester -- and know that students will receive frequent automated feedback as well as the all important and incisive teacher feedback."

If you have redesigned your school, what did you do and how did you do it? If not, what is holding you back from going deeper with student learning? What design shifts do you need?

Comments (12)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

John Bennett's picture
John Bennett
Emeritus Faculty in the School of Engineering / University of Connecticut

For sure, the "four musts" will have impact on improving effective learning. And, equally clear is the impact of such "musts" on teacher time. A few thoughts on the posting:

1. To me, there is no question that effective learning assessment efforts require more time commitments. But such feedback to teachers is incredibly important if we are striving to enhance effective learning facilitation. The danger to me is that the drive to reduce required time commitments will overwhelm the requirement that the assessments and their grading / analysis be true evaluations of effective learning.

2. My personal experience with what I believe to be honest measures of effective learning suggests that development and subsequent use of good rubrics will reduce somewhat the time commitments required for assessment grading and analysis. MORE IMPORTANTLY, I honestly believe the feedback from such efforts to me as an instructor more than justifies the time required.

3. There is no substitute for peer interaction. Instructors should routinely have time allotted for such interaction. There is much to be learned from such interactions AND very likely there is much than can be adapted from others as well - almost certainly more effectively using time. The caution is that efforts of others be ADAPTED, not ADOPTED; similar though they might well be, no two situations are alike.

4. Peer interaction should not be limited to opportunities within the local school system. For example, with regard to the PBL noted in the commentary (so important to effective learning in my thinking), may I note the #pblchat on Tuesday evenings on Twitter beginning at 9:00 PM Eastern time. For me and many of the others involved, participation has provided professional development and many new contacts in my efforts to continuously improve my understanding and facilitation of PBL efforts. Similar opportunities are available I'm sure for any topic.

5. Finally, there is no doubt in my mind that technology will continually improve and reduce the "routine" time required for gathering assessment data. The caution as noted above is to demand an evaluation of the effectiveness of such technology use in contributing to the intended outcomes of the assessment. AND at least some of the time "saved" should definitely be used for enhanced analysis of assessment results.

Bob Lenz's picture
Bob Lenz
Co-founder and Chief of Innovation, Envision Education, Oakland CA

I agree completely with John that the process of assessing work for teachers is critical and it cannot all be automated. I think that we need to think of "assessment as learning" - not just for students but teachers too.

Education technology just took a new turn today with Apple's iBook 2 - we can create our own "textbooks" for students and post our courses on iTunes U. I wonder if any of this new technology can be used for assessment as learning.


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