Thursday, August 07, 2008

No context, no comprende

In adapting to Learning 2.0, there's bound to be a huge conflict between the holistic, customized, student-centred curriculum that we hope to develop for our next generation of learners, and the tried-and-tested assessment of the pen-and-paper nature that we're used to.

Immediately on my return from the conference, I had scheduled a practice exercise to prepare the kids for their test next week. Here's a piece of text, read it. Here are a bunch of questions about the text, answer them -- and don't copy anything from the text. How stimulating is that?

So, we want our cake and eat it too. We all agree that assessment is an essential component of the learning process. It shows the progress of the learner, the accuracy of the learning, the suitability of the pace of instruction, and lots of other important data for tracking the learning process. And yet, because we are introducing diversity, applying multiple-intelligences to bear on our students' learning, and encouraging them to take ownership and responsibility over their own learning process, when it comes to taking standardized tests it seems like allowing everyone to run free for a while and then suddenly yanking on their leashes and bringing them all back to the kennel we told them they were being released from. In this model, their learning is still about the test, whatever our intentions were.

There is a way to reap the benefits of both worlds. The one missing factor in the above model is context. The idea is to teach the kids beyond the requirements of our tests, to stretch them so far that the test is like child's play to them. We aim our sights higher, push the kids further, no so much making them grind harder for their test but rather to put them in real-life situations in which they can see how the theories they are reading in their textbooks actually do make the world function.

As for my exercise, I decided I wouldn't torture them with sit down, shut up, do your work. The topic was about the declining regard today's society has for the institution of marriage. Although the topic is a real, current concern for adults, it seemed quite remote to the kids until working together in small groups they started contextualizing the issue for themselves. Before attacking the given text, each group had to make some important decisions first. Each group had to decide which interest group it represented; it had to decide who their audience was; and it had to decide what the problem was that it had to advise on, given the interest of the group. For example, a group might decide that it was playing the role of a happily married couple advising another couple on the verge of divorce how to salvage their marriage. Now that they had a reason for looking at the text and they had a specific problem to solve, they seemed to be in a better frame of mind to begin the exercise.

I still feel they aren't quite ready to handle the pen-and-paper exercise yet though. I need one more step and that is for each group to script out a dialogue based on the characters and the problem they need to resolve, and then for fun (multiple-intelligence thing) we'll have a little drama presentation so that everyone will be able to view what initially seemed like a mundane problem from many different perspectives, some of which may be somewhat self-serving, but none absolutely right or absolutely wrong. But all relevant to answering the Application Question that is the whole point of the Paper 2 Comprehension.

I haven't even mentioned how the use of Web 2.0 could vastly enrich the kids' engagement in this exercise. As it is I can see already that I going to need a lot of time to get everything done. Which is why I have a problem: the kids' standardized test is scheduled for next week. I may not have the time to prepare them for it if I go with what I propose. Hmm... decisions, decisions.

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