In the traditional system of education, things are pretty murky. Teachers, students, and families are not always clear on some very basic things: what is being learned, what it means to be proficient, how learning will be evaluated, where students are in their learning relative to expectations, or what supports are needed and available. This is a huge problem! Knowledge is power, when teachers, students, and families lack knowledge about learning they are not able to take meaningful action. Think about it: a teacher who does not know what proficiency looks like will use their best judgment, often letting bias creep in. A student who does not know what they are learning or why is disengaged and apathetic. A parent who has never been told that their child is behind grade level cannot advocate. As you begin to shift learning in your district or school, how will you make sure that learning is transparent to key stakeholders? Here are a few key things to consider.
- Learning continuum. Making learning transparent starts with developing a common continuum of learning. At a system level, a continuum of learning maps backwards from graduation competencies showing key milestones along the way. At a school or classroom level, a continuum of learning can do the same thing for any given course, unit, or project. Basically, everyone – teachers, students, and families – should be able to see what is being learning, how, and why – at all levels.
- Calibrated proficiency. Once you have a transparent continuum of learning, the next step is to show what it means to be proficient at any given point along that continuum. In the traditional system this is NOT always clear, and so bias creeps into grading, assessment, and promotion/retention. In a modern system, there are objective standards for proficiency. Often, these are expressed in a rubric format that shows what progress toward proficiency looks like. And, modern systems make sure that teachers share a detailed understanding of what this means in practice. Calibration exercises help ensure that “proficient” means the same thing no matter who’s doing the grading.
- Learner progress. In the traditional system, it is all too possible for students to be behind and not know it. This is because there are very few ways for students to visualize where they are relative to expectations. A letter grade does not give you much information, and by the time you get the grade it’s usually too late to do much about it. In contrast, modern education has systems in place to show students how they are doing in real time. Most often, this involves technology that provides rich information at a responsive rate. Armed with this knowledge, students are better able to own their learning.
Questions to Consider
- How do students, teachers, and families currently access information about their learning? Do they have the information they need to make informed decisions about their teaching, learning, and advocacy?
- Do you have a learning continuum? How are expectations for learning currently expressed? How are they shared?
- Do you have systems in place to calibrate definitions of proficiency?
- What systems do you have for showing learner progress?
- How do students currently receive feedback about their learning?