Sabbatical – Part 5

Disobedient Teaching

Aaaah, revisiting one of my favourite reads. Such a pleasure to go back and reread this text which I find is always rewarding and one that never fails to pull you back from the brink of jumping on board the great conveyor belt of education compliance!

While there are many many aspects of this book that feed into the discussion about the purpose of school and what is important to learn, I will just focus on Part 3, Assessment.

Initially the discussion takes a historical perspective starting with a look at our ongoing use of streaming learners in our classrooms . J. C. Daniels is referenced , with makes a good side read…

Streaming, most junior school teachers believe, is a method of school organisation which allows children to progress, educationally, ‘at their own natural pace’; bright children are, it is believed, held back by being taught in classes containing duller pupils, whilst duller pupils tend to be overawed, and consequently are retarded, by the presence of brighter pupils in their classes. Consequently, it is widely believed that both dull, average and bright pupils make maximum educational progress when streaming policies are operated. The evidence of this investigation suggests that streaming does not in fact have these effects—rather that the contrary is true…

THE EFFECTS OF STREAMING IN THE PRIMARY SCHOOL
II.—A Comparison of Streamed and Unstreamed Schools
J. C. DANIELS

It is a good prompt isn’t it? Why do we largely still pursue this approach that has long reaching consequences? Is it our obsession with data and accountability? Is it parental expectation? As I side note I know that teachers are exploring and implementing mixed ability grouping, especially in maths at our school. Some teachers struggle with this, but why? Is it just easier to group and the organise learners by achievement? Is it because teachers don’t have the knowledge, yet, to facilitate a different type of learning? Is it due to their core beliefs aligning to a streamed approach?

Good questions, worth pondering, but let’s refocus back to the book…

We know, and Ings reinforces this, that judgements of progress and achievement reduced to a mark really tell us very little at all. We gain no insight in to how learners learn; their thinking, their approach to problem solving.

I feel fortunate to work within a school that increasingly looks at the whole learner and is making a real effort to balance to the traditional areas of schooling (literacy & maths) with a core set of dispositions. Furthermore, while we still employ some ‘grade’ based assessments based on a line in the sand benchmark, what is really important is the progress our learners make towards their learning goals. We don’t want teachers teaching to the test/assessment, we want them responding to the individual needs of their learners and taking them from where they are at towards where they need to go.

We are also exploring a new approach to make this ‘assessment’ more learner centred and now after being more informed reading this book, an approach that links to past academic practice. Ings describes how assessing learning traditionally took the form of being oral and public:

Following a process of challenge and defence, students were expected to argue their thesis. They weren’t marked.

Ings, W. (2017). Disobedient Teaching. pp. 53

Sadly, these practices are really only reserved now for much older students presenting their PhD thesis. We are looking to change that, and change it with our primary school learners. More to come on that later in another post.

Ings goes on to remind us of practice in Finland, long known as a highly effective educational system and amongst the highest ranking in equity and excellence globally (heard those terms in your most recent ERO review??). There there is no formal assessment of learners for the first 6 years of schooling, and there is only 1 mandatory test at the age of 16, and there is no streaming, yet they have one of the lowest differences between the weakest and strongest learners.

What can we learn from that?

The final area to discuss from the chapter, before looking at Ings’ solutions, has strong links to the previous post and the “measure what you treasure” line of thought.

Ings argues the our usage of standardised assessments narrows our views of what is valued and therefore taught. We know what it can’t measure (Ayers, 1993, as quoted by Ings):

  • initiative
  • creativity
  • imagination
  • curiosity
  • effort
  • commitment…
  • and a whole other host of valuable dispositions

The relevance is clear for us., With a school vision of Empowering Agency, Innovation and Leadership, it is dispositions such as those listed above that will support us to realise our school goals. Once again are measuring what we treasure?

And how will we do that?

THere is plenty more in this chapter. The last nugget I will pull out is this (in reference to our dependency on measuring/testing:

…because despite the fact that the average New Zealander spends 12.6 years in school, they actually know very little about themselves as learners. Very little.

page 60

I am determined that we will stay true to our school vision and empower our learners to be well on the road to understanding who they are as learners and how they learn before they leave our school.