Tuesday, August 18, 2015


In the previous sections, we have been discussing the goals of learning. We looked at how we can establish Key Learning and Essential Questions for our children. We also looked at the importance of setting the destination and charting the path on which we want to take our students in their journey of learning. Again, we do all this so that we are able to ensure that learning is meaningful, purposeful and will be retained in the long term memory.

In this chapter, we discuss the tools of learning, beginning with assignments and assessments. We will look at their importance and how they can be useful in measuring, guiding, and achieving long term retention of the intended Key Learning.

Purposeful Assignments and Assessments
Assignments, if constructed well, can reinforce, extend and allow for learning. They can be done under supervision, independently, collaboratively or individually. They can be conceptual in nature, or produce a tangible product.

Form notwithstanding, the non-negotiable is that they must forward the intended Key Learning and provide a platform on which to demonstrate the Desired Student Outcomes.

Assessments can also perform similar functions. Unfortunately, educators often use assessments only for gathering summative information. Sometimes, the information collected does not even inform on the success of the child’s retention of the intended Key Learning. Instead, it merely measures how well the child can cope with exam-type conditions and questions.

In actual fact, assignments and assessments are like blanks in a metal press. They can be formed into any shape we wish, to serve any purpose we desire. They can even be used interchangeably. If we truly understand their versatility, we can harness their potential in crafting our learning experiences. Let me illustrate.

We start with a classic exam question as a root.
Evaluate the success of measures to control deforestation.
And assume the ideal classroom again.

Subject: Natural Vegetation – measures to control deforestation
Level: 15 year olds of upper middle socio-economic standing, good family background, possibly having some background knowledge
Duration: 60 minute lesson at 9am in the morning, 1st period.

Given the profile of our class, these could be the desired results;

Stage 1: Identify desired results

Enduring Understandings:
The best efforts of any organisation are always limited by conflicts of interest between stakeholders.

Essential Questions:
Why deforest?
Why is it so difficult to curb deforestation?

Students will be able to:
Identify the causes of deforestation.
Identify the measures to curb deforestation.
Identify the reasons that hinder their implementation.
Explain why the implementation of the measures to curb deforestation is hindered.

Now let’s think about the types of assignments that can be used.

A worksheet listing those exact student outcomes immediately comes to mind and would be the closest link between the learning experience and exam conditions. But what about others, such as a debate amongst stakeholders, a role play, writing a poem, or a story?

The possibilities are endless, as long as they allow for a tangible and measurable performance. And because all of the possibilities can point the students to the Key Learning for this section, they can all promote long term retention of the key knowledge.

But not all possibilities will work for your class. Disadvantaged students would not be able to have as much access to out of textbook information and so may be more reliant on you to provide. Students less able in language may need more scaffolding to construct arguments. So from here, you see that there are many variables which influence the use of assignments.

In our case, we may want to set for them a debate amongst stakeholders, grouping the class into expert groups and assigning each group a role. We then give them time in class to look up their relevant content area and prepare for the debate. Finally, we instruct them to center their arguments on an agenda that looks at the effects of deforestation in a particular area.

We could even extend the activity by having them organize their verbal arguments into a written expose. In the end, they should end up with an argument that answers our root question.

Now, the root question no longer becomes an assessment in the way we expect assessments to be. Yet if we grade either the verbal argument, or the written expose, the assignment transforms into an assessment.

It is therefore important for us to realize that assignments and assessments are essentially two sides of the same coin. Though they may look different, they both serve the same purpose and are worth just as much.

Next up: Measuring success

Understanding Education
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