Thursday, January 21, 2010

Teaching quality, scaffolding, and sparking sunlight

Listen long enough to the assessment for learning discussion, and you'll hear the word "scaffolding." There, the key idea is that after we articulate a clear, deep, fairly short list of standards students should meet each year, those standards need to be broken down into more concrete steps. Those steps make up a clear ladder that students can climb.

The ladder or scaffolding is not just to be clear for teachers.

It's meant to be information they share with students. More than that, the idea is for students to get feedback on their work that says: "You're here on the ladder, and your next step is to go this step higher. It's definitely in reach, and here's what you need to do."

It's also meant to be shared with parents, so that there's a shared understanding not just of where kids are and where they're headed but of how possible it is to get there with steady effort.

Those climbable ladders, in turn, can change the whole school experience for many students. Stiggins writes, "In other words, assessment practices that permit—even encourage—some students to give up on learning must be replaced by those that engender hope and sustained effort for all students."

That hope isn't a fake thing or a willed thing. It's a valid, accurate description of where students stand, organized in a way that invites them to keep working and allows them legitimate, growing confidence in their own ability to succeed.

In the Assessment Manifesto, it's amazing to tunnel through the fairly technical description of good and bad testing and come out in the middle of what I've called the "sunlit vision" of individual students experiencing school as so much more positive and so much more successful.

The sunlit vision isn't different from the gap-closing, learning-community, assessment-for-learning model, but the description starts from a different angle--from the lived experience of individual children in their daily school-lives.

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