working together so learners can flourish

How do our assessment practices strengthen the bonds of the learning community?


To be a blessing for the whole learning community, assessment should actively and intentionally contribute to the well being of the body of Christ in microcosm in our learning spaces. We need to tend to the needs of the individual learner without promoting individualist thinking and actions. In a networked world “knowledge is moving from the individual to the individual and his contacts.”[i] While referring primarily to personal learning networks facilitated by the internet, this also applies to the face-to-face learning community. As we give learners the opportunity to work together to address real issues, what they know collectively is more important that what the individual knows. If our assessment practices are to contribute to the well being of the whole, we need to avoid practices that cause some learners to feel inferior or ashamed and others to feel proud and superior. We need to be careful not to promote narcissism and selfishness rather than empathy and compassion. We cannot contribute to the well being of the whole if our practices drive a wedge between those who already know and those who don’t.[ii] Do our assessment practices create spaces to celebrate the learning and gifts of unique individuals in the community and point to ways that that learning and those gifts can be used to serve the whole? Can we demonstrate that our approach to assessment promotes relationship and connection among learners? How do we make room in our assessment practices for acknowledging what the group together knows and can do? How often do we create opportunities for learners to give helpful feedback to each other?  If our approach to assessment is to be oriented toward the blessing of the whole learning community, we need to subject all of our assessment related practices to scrutiny such those that promote undue competition for individual recognition.

Do our assessment practices reflect thoughtful determinations of what learners need to understand, know and be able to do to thrive in their futures?

One of the keys to quality assessment is being very clear about what we are assessing.[iii] For assessment to be a blessing we need to make sure that we are assessing those things that students need to learn to thrive in their futures. Traditionally, when content was scarce and students needed teachers to deliver it, assessment was heavily focused on content mastery. That approach does not take into account the new reality in which students can access content and teachers anywhere anytime. Students can now carry the sum of human knowledge in their pockets, and can easily communicate, collaborate, and create with people around the world. Content is still important, but the advent of powerful technological tools have made it abundant and easily and quickly accessible.  Perhaps our emphasis needs to shift from content mastery to learning mastery.[iv] How much of our assessment focuses on new skills and literacies such as proficiency with technology, designing and sharing with global audiences, managing rivers of information, persistence, patient problem solving, collaboration, discerning reliable sources, creativity, proficiency with multimedia, to name a few. [v] Assessment for blessing needs to move from assessing what students know to assessing what they can do with what they know.[vi] How often do we give students performance-based assessments in which they can produce real products for real audiences, demonstrating what they are able to do with what they are learning? Even though such assessments may be more ‘inefficient’, ‘subjective’, and time consuming than the traditional, can we demonstrate to each other the benefit of using them to gather evidence of understanding and transfer?

* * *

For our collective assessment practices to bless, we need to be constantly learning, relearning and unlearning our craft.[vii] Engaging in a communal, collaborative inquiry into our assessment practices can help us transform our approaches to assessment so that more students can learn more and better. This is a potentially powerful avenue for professional learning. The essential questions I offered are by no means exhaustive, nor are they designed to be used in any particular order. Collaborative teacher teams should focus on those questions drawn from the above or of their own making to address issues in their particular context. The important thing is that we do conduct a periodic, mutual inquiry into our assessment practices to help bend them ever closer toward blessing.

elaine brouwer, Director of Alta Vista

[i] Richardson, Will. (2012). Why school: how education must change when learning and information are everywhere. NY, NY: TED Conferences LLC. 18/35.

[ii] Gray, Peter. (2013). Free to learn: why unleashing the instinct to play will make our children happier, more self-reliant, and better students for life. NY, NY: Basic Books.

[iii] Stiggins, Richard J., Arter, Judith A., Chappuis, Jan, and Chappuis, Stephen. (2012). Classroom Assessment for Student Learning: doing it well-using it right, 2nd edition. Portland, OR: Educational Testing Service.

[iv] Richardson, Will. (2012). Why school: how education must change when learning and information are everywhere. NY, NY: TED Conferences LLC. 29/35.

[v] Richardson, Will. (2013). “Students first, not stuff.” Educational Leadership, (70) 6, 10-14.

[vi] Richardson, Will. (2012). Why school: how education must change when learning and information are everywhere. NY, NY: TED Conferences LLC. 24/35.

[vii] Richardson, Will. (2012). Why school: how education must change when learning and information are everywhere. NY, NY: TED Conferences LLC.


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