We at Cohort 21 have written before about the different places that technology can occupy in a classroom. We’ve talked about leveraging it to check-in on student learning, Louis has reflected on how use tech to engage students in the learning process, and even allow students to use technology as a demonstration of their knowledge. Tim Rollwagen’s recent post is full of great examples, Carolyn wrote about how to put it in the hands of the students too!
In the last few weeks of school, as we teachers are designing our culminating learning tasks, it’s important to consider when and where and how to apply technology. Consider this quotation from Grant Wiggins blog “Beyond Teacher Egocentrism: Design Thinking“:
We think like a designer, not like a teacher, when we say: the teacher is just one element in the design. The choice of task, pedagogy, groupings, flow of work, resources, furniture, light, noise level, role of people and text – all of these design elements are arguably as important as the teacher.
I believe that we need to get DESIGN our tasks with the most essential content and skills at their heart. These culminating activities shouldn’t be testing things that students remember for only the 75-120mins, nor even the 2 months following the activity themselves. Check out Ruth’s post, where she writes:
I have found inspiration recently in a book written in 1847. A MATH textbook from 1847, in fact. This gem, recently republished, is a color-illustrated version of Euclid’s Elements, without the algebra notation. It’s genius. Our school library purchased a copy, and I showed it to my students as an example of how geometry is connected to Truth, Beauty, and Usefulness simultaneously
These tasks should resonate with the essential understandings of the course, and the lives of our students. They should be what you want students to remember 40 years from now (when they are telling their children that at one point in time there used to be buildings called schools where everyone had to sit in the same room and learn about one discipline 🙂)
Consider this video explaining “Essential Understandings” that helps you balance the ministry expectations with enduring understandings:
In his blog cited earlier, although Wiggins is talking more about project-based learning, his first few points can be directly applied to the creation of culminating tasks:
- Thought-provoking intellectual challenges (inquiries, questions, problems)
- The challenge has been designed to optimize self-sustaining and productive work by learners, related to a clear and intellectually worthy goal
- The learners have become reasonably competent in classroom routines that foster productive goal-focused work
- The challenge cannot be accomplished by a worksheet, checklist or recipe. It requires strategic use of knowledge and skill, creative problem-solving, and critical thinking; and the eliciting of multiple perspectives on how to address the challenge and gauge progress.
Don’t get me wrong, exams are a tried and tested, and very much still used form of evaluation that has validity with the educational system in which we teach, and which our students are in, both high school and post-secondary. However, allowing students to demonstrate their learning outside of these institutionalized devices is key to evaluating the whole student. Nothing’s perfect, but when you add essential or enduring understandings with design thinking you can achieve truly rich tasks for students.
But what of technology?
From an article about how Alberta is using tech’ in their classroom assessments: “Alberta’s education system is seen as a leader in the use of technology in teaching and learning, and new high tech gadgets and information technology infrastructure have enabled new options for how teachers teach, how students learn and how classrooms look and operate.” But that is really just Accommodation in the SAMR model. They are not being asked to redefine how they demonstrate their learning.
What I put forward is that, perhaps, because these final tasks are so high stakes, that technology may not have a place here. Sure you can get students to write final tasks as Google Docs, but really, using technology may interfere with your essential understandings. That is why I have decided to go low-tech with my final tasks…
Therefore, in my American History class, one of the final culminating tasks is having students demonstrate their mastery of essential skills, and essential thinking concepts called Historical Concepts. Click HERE for my Webinar on when and how to teach these concepts in a high school history class. My students will work their way through the following:
Classes 1 – 3
1) Select one of three topics that capture the essential understandings of the course
2) In HARD COPY, read & annotate three primary documents I’ve selected for their topic
3) Answer 3 comprehension questions about the three primary docs
Class 3 & 4
4) Develop and answer questions of their own based off of the Who, What, When, Where, Why & How framework
Class 5 (80mins)
5) THEN, on the final class, they will be given a selection of three prompts. They will choose one, and answering using a critical analysis (skills) and by applying at least one Historical Concept (enduring understanding)
It’s not razmataz, it’s not high-tech, but when they complete the task, they will have addressed, intelligently, a major issue in American History that exists and persists into today, and they will have responded cogently and intelligently to it. They will have been given an opportunity to synthesize the skills that they have developed and mastered over the course of the year, and apply them to a topic that means something to them. Finally they will have produced a well structured application of research to support their response. In an ideal world, don’t we want that for all our students?
What do you think about my final assessment? Is it rigorous, valid and effective?