Assessment to a Seven Year Old

I thought since it was Friday I’d share something a little lighter than yesterday’s post. Not that the notion of assessment is a topic to be taken lightly … it is critical to everything we do in education — at every phase of the game. One thing I’ve noticed is that people all have notions about assessment that they are usually willing to share. Questions like, do you believe in grades? Mastery learning? Tests? Authentic assessment? Almost always get people talking. Wherever you are you can get a discussion going with people about assessment. I think it is because it is so personal and is tied to our lasting memories of school at various levels. With that in mind I thought I’d talk to someone who is relatively new to the assessment world. My seven year old daughter.

My daughter and I have done several podcasts in the past — we call them MaddieCasts. I guess they aren’t really podcasts as I’ve never posted any, but regardless of semantics we’ve taken the time to sit down and capture some thoughts over the last few years in digital format. I always enjoy what we come up with and the other night was no different. I decided to go ahead and post this episode because it is right in the middle of lots of stuff I am thinking about.

I’ve mentioned it before, but I am taking a course on assessment (INSYS 522) … in this course we are exploring lots of things, but we spent time in the first week focusing on the ideas of grades and testing. We’ve moved beyond these concepts, but I have to say that these first conversations made me wonder what it all means to a first grader. Talking about these things brought back lots of my own memories of early school experiences, so I decided I’d engage my little girl in a discussion about these topics. With that in mind I sat down with my seven year old first grade daughter last night to explore these notions. I was interested to hear from someone who is yet to be totally jaded by the educational environment about her view of tests, grades, and school in general. Hearing it from her mouth is a wonderful way of staying connected to the realities of teaching and learning — and what she had to say was a little surprising.

I have to wonder what are your reactions to concepts like grades, tests, and mastery? What are the two things you like and dislike about school? Funny how much assessment plays into even a seven year old mind.

MaddieCast for February 2009.

The Plunge

Last night I attended my doctoral course in assessment here at Penn State. I was surprised that I was a bit anxious as I walked into the room. I guess it comes back to the fact that I was a student and not the teacher for the first time in quite some time. I’ve been teaching courses at Penn State off and on for the last eight years, so the notion of sitting on the other side of the equation left me feeling a bit vulnerable (I think that is what I was feeling). I’ve been quietly working on my doctorate for the last couple years — slowly plodding along, but exclusively by doing independent studies, taking courses online, or by getting credit for teaching. This is the first time I have been a student in a real classroom in quite some time, so being a bit nervous was a natural feeling. I am lucky enough to be taking the course from my advisor and friend, Dr. Kyle Peck and his wife, Dr. Catherine Augustine. Both of them are easy going and very smart. They put us at ease — all nine of us.

After I got into the flow I found class to be rather relaxing — I was able to leave email and daily demands alone for a good three hours as we talked through some very basic concepts related to assessment. I think my positions at the Institution have afforded me unique views into the issues we’ll explore so I felt as though I was at a bit of an advantage. I have either been a practicing instructional designer or leading instructional design teams for the last 12 years so that has also given me experience in the things we were talking about — made me immediately ready to dive in. I think I will be able to add value to the class on a few levels and am looking forward to exploring it all as it progresses.

With that in mind, I am going to try something a little different as I move through this experience … I am going to use this space and my PSU blog to attempt to open the course up to those not in the room through my thoughts. I am begining to wonder how I can use an open set of tools to invite others into my learning and see how it impacts my own thoughts and outcomes. I’ll be writing weekly reflections, tagging content in delicious with insys522, making new YouTube videos asking questions from the course, creating podcasts, and more. These aren’t assignments … no one is directing me to do this.

My own personal reflection from the experience last night has pushed me to ask some new questions about teaching, learning, and community engagement. I am curious about what more I can learn by almost redesigning things as they happen to me … sort of looking at design as a mind tool. Will I create deeper meaning for myself through this practice and will it have any sort of impact on people in and out of the course are two issues I am eager to explore? Those are just two of the questions I am considering as I walk into a fresh field of snow — no footsteps to follow on this one for me. I’ll do my best to be as transparent through the process and I welcome any and all comments, feedback, encouragement, or whatever else gets thrown my way. So, in a sense I am inviting you to engage in a semester long experiment with me to see what learning and sharing in the open can mean. I hate to say it, but even if you don’t show up I will — but I certainly hope you do! Anyone up to take the plunge with me?