Sabbatical – Part 6

Bidding for Badges

I have been lucky enough to visit Ormiston Junior College twice in recent times. My DPs and I make a conscious effort to spend 2 or 3 days away from school at least once a year and visit other areas of NZ to hear and see what other schools are doing to realise their vision for learning. One of these times we visited OJC, and I also went there by chance really, as part of my Principal PLG.

On my first visit to OJC, I heard about their approach to awarding badges. On the second visit I saw the process in action. This has stuck with me and as I continue to reflect on this experience, the more powerful I believe the whole approach is.

Now… before you picture in your mind a traditional badge system in schools, where perhaps you qualify for the Academic Badge because you got a credit of higher in ICAS, or you represented the school in 2 sports and got your Sports Badge, or you did road patrol and got your Service Badge etc… you need to banish this mental image from your mind!

What we are referring to here is a system that puts the learner right in the very centre. They demonstrate how they have met a range of key criteria, derived directly from the New Zealand Curriculum. They pitch their evidence to their peers and it is they who decide if the badge should be awarded and to what level.

A few more details from a booklet we were given on our visit:

  • Students are able to set goals and bid for badges for their assessment
  • They self assess and are encouraged to track their learning journey
  • When students feel they are ready to bid for a badge they advise their learning advisor
  • Many do it at the end of the term but they can come at any time
  • They stand in front of a group of 10-15 other students and are questioned by the group.
  • The discussion is dynamic
  • Evidence is accepted from outside school too

And some nuggets:

  • Students have to demonstrate their learning and they have to learn to be smart about how they bid
  • They also learn about giving feedback to others
  • …it set the processes for students to talk about their learning
  • Students are now able to navigate their learning
  • Students are directing their learning, selecting badges based on goals they have set with parents and teachers
  • Students can show their learning in a way that makes sense to them

It was a real privilege to see the process of bidding for badges as it was happening. I saw and heard a rich dialogue happening between learners and between the group and the teacher who facilitated the conversations. The process was well thought out and was consistently rolled out across the groups we observed.

So what is it about this that really interests/excites me, and how does this link in to the direction of this sabbatical inquiry?

  • OJC have identified what is really important to learn and therefore demonstrate through their graduate profiles and linked them to an authentic real assessment process i.e. measure what you treasure
  • The process is driven by the learner. They are the ones in control. It is not being done to them, they set goals and then demonstrate how well they have met them
  • It’s real. Learners use real examples both from within and outside the school, not some boxed in standardised mechanism that doesn’t have any relevance to what is actually happening in a learner’s life.
  • It’s collaborative. The collective intelligence of the group is used to support the bidder. They are not alone. The process supports other learners as they look to make bids in the future.
  • The teacher supports the process but makes no judgements. Their role is facilitative; with the bidder in sharing what they have done; and with the group by guiding them to question, seek clarification and even advocate for the learner bidding.
  • It’s open and transparent. The curriculum drivers, the process, the outcomes are all clear for everyone involved. No information is withheld or filed away in a teacher’s file.
  • It assessment as it should be. It’s powerful and in the hands of the learners.

While it appears evident that this type of approach dovetails beautifully with the developing direction of transforming our learning priorities, assessment & reporting practices, I do wonder about implementing this type of approach into RSS and how it would go down… lots of questions.

  1. OJC is a junior high with Year 7-10 learners, RSS is Year 1-6. What adaptations would be required to make it work for younger learners?
  2. How will parents view this and understand that a badge approach like this is as valuable as traditional assessments in literacy and numeracy? How will we develop that understanding so they are alongside us rather than at us?
  3. Are our teachers beliefs in line with this as well? What shifts it practice and pedagogy will need to take place?
  4. How well do our learners really know themselves as learners? How well do they make links from what they are doing to what they are learning, and additionally, learning in a broader dispositional sense? what is their capacity to deeply self reflect?

The cruncher really is, how brave am I (are we) prepared to be in implementing this?

If the answer is not much, then how as a school are we staying true to our vision; empowering agency, innovation and leadership?