Onward . . . Reflection on Assessment

It’s the idea of balance that pulls at me as I write this post.  It’s an attempt to bring together ideas from three very separate texts that I’ve read – two of them today.  My key takeaway is that it has solidified my belief that a balanced approach (to just about anything in our lives) is the best method because it is developed from the strengths of various perspectives.  It’s the gold that comes from refining thought.

In Student-Centered Coaching at the Secondary Level, Diane Sweeney presents three coaching models:  student-centered coaching, teacher-centered coaching, and relationship-driven coaching.  Student-centered coaching held the biggest draw for me because it focused on collaboration and using evidence to ensure that our students master the standards.  Teacher-centered left a negative influence because its focus is evaluative — moving teachers toward implementing a program or instructional practice.  Relationship-driven held some interest because the coach provides support and resources, which is something I hope to be able to do this next year.  However, data is rarely used, and “sharing” comes into play with things — technology, textbooks, and programs which strikes me as impersonal.

In a totally unrelated blog post, Carol Black writes about “Children, Learning, and the ‘Evaluative Gaze’ of School.”  In it, she relates a personal experience from fifth grade when she shared with her mother that “I just realized that you should never do anything you love for school, because that will make you hate it!”  What the author realized is that the constant scrutiny over the assessment of work, takes the focus away from learning and toward evaluation.  It’s this constant “scrutiny” or assessment that is hurting our kids.  As psychologist Peter Gray puts it, “Evaluation, when it is not asked for, and when it has consequences as it does in school, is a threat. It narrows the mind… it inhibits new learning, new insights, and creative thought—the very processes that some people think school is supposed to promote.” [Italics are my own].  As we move toward our district’s vision for deeper learning, I worry about a conflicting focus on assessment.  Is the answer in finding a better balance in order to reap the benefits of meeting academic standards while still focusing on critical skills and keeping a love of learning alive?

I believe part of the answer comes from Elena Aguilar in her new book Onward:  Cultivating Emotional Resilience in Educators.  In the appendix, she provides a Habits and Dispositions of Resilient Educators self-assessment which asks about how strongly you feel about that habit or disposition using a 1-5 point scale.  Then, she follows with a reflection:

  1.  What, if anything, surprise you after doing this self-assessment?
  2. Based on this self-assessment, what implications are there for how you engage with this book?
  3. In which habit do you most want to make growth?

What fabulous questions!  It’s the “What?”, “So What?”, “Now What?” formula that can drive any action plan.  When we’re clear about where we were on the self-assessment, and we have to look at the implications for practice, how can we not grow?  Why don’t we turn over more of the assessing to our students using something as simple as a three-question reflection?



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