Who Owns the Learning?
When teaching characterization as an element of literature, a good deal of class discussion focuses on motivation. It is, after all, what drives a character’s actions. Rarely explicit, motivation is inferred by studying a character’s actions and reactions. Based on conflicts, needs, or possible fears, motivation reveals a character’s personality.
So it is with our students. During one of our faculty PD sessions, we heard that when addressing the barriers to successful inclusion we must consider motivation. I consciously recalled the many times I have referred to a student’s lack of motivation as an explanation for problem behaviors. Upon reflection, I realize that there is no such thing as a lack of motivation. Motivation exists; it is the nature of the motivation that causes less than desirable results.
Just as pedagogy evolves and paradigms shift, the climate of learning changes. Today, our students approach learning as task specific and assessment driven; knowledge for knowledge’s sake is no more. Once an assignment is completed and a grade earned, it is dismissed. How can there be enlightenment without reflection? Substance without cultivation? Quality without caring? It is time to transform the climate; Alan November proffers a way to do so in his book Who Owns the Learning?
“The power of purpose and meaningful contribution has been missing from our classrooms and our youth culture for some time.” [Who Owns the Learning? p.5]
November’s Digital Learning Farm Model restores the value of children as contributors to their own learning, to their classrooms, and to the world. It shifts the responsibility for quality work to the learners. It imbues the students’ learning culture with purpose. (This is motivation!)
Change isn’t easy – in fact, it can be downright scary! I expect resistance – from the kids and, possibly, the parents. With administrative support, I can cope with that. As mentioned, student reflection and self-assessment have, for the most part, been neglected in the last century; yet, these skills can be modeled and practiced until they become habits. However, as the paradigm morphs from teacher-instructed to student-designed, so does control. The challenge: to curb my natural instincts to manage and perfect. No easy task. My goal: to redirect my talents to empower and reinforce.
This poster is often on display in my classroom.
I like the metaphor of a road leading to success – ergo, action in a specific direction leads to a desirable destination. I like the analogy that said destination is almost always under construction – ultimate results are achieved via building, tearing down, and rebuilding. I like the inference that obstacles may be encountered along the way, or even that the path may detour. I like the inherent idea that construction is performed by a crew (team) with a foreman; that every member of the crew has a job to do and a role to play.
The Digital Learning Farm model provides the blueprint that details student jobs and offers techniques for teachers as they assume the roles of mentors and facilitators.
In my opinion, assessment is evidential. The overarching question is, “Evidence of what?” If my goal as an educator is to promote authentic learning,* then I am looking for evidence of independent thought and applied critical thinking – authentic assessment.**
* Authentic Learning is schooling related to real-life situations—the kinds of problems faced by adult citizens, consumers, or professionals. Advocates complain that what is taught in school has little relationship to anything people do in the world outside of school; efforts to make learning more authentic are intended to overcome that problem. Authentic learning situations require teamwork, problem-solving skills, and the ability to organize and prioritize the tasks needed to complete the project. Students should know what is expected before beginning their work. Consultation with others, including the instructor, is encouraged. The goal is to produce a high-quality solution to a real problem, not to see how much the student can remember.
** Authentic Assessment realistically measures the knowledge and skills needed for success in adult life. The term is often used as the equivalent of performance assessment, which, rather than asking students to choose a response to a multiple-choice test item, involves having students perform a task, such as serving a volleyball, solving a particular type of mathematics problem, or writing a short business letter. There is a distinction, however.
Specifically, authentic assessments are performance assessments that are not artificial or contrived. Most school tests are necessarily contrived. Writing a letter to an imaginary company only to demonstrate to the teacher that you know how is different from writing a letter to a real person or company in order to achieve a real purpose. One way to make an assessment more authentic is to have students choose the particular task they will use to demonstrate what they have learned. For example, a student might choose to demonstrate her understanding of a unit in chemistry by developing a model that illustrates the problems associated with oil spills. [from a Lexicon of Education Terms]
In our present school environment and learning climate, grades are expected – by parents, administrators, higher learning institutions and, as I’ve shared, by the students themselves. In fact, standardized test scores and report cards are used for placement by high school admissions officers. However, grades and scores of this nature are not authentic assessments of mastery, autonomy, or purpose. Nor do they reflect an individual student’s learning style or ability to collaborate or skill to communicate – the tests are contrived. In his book Drive, author Daniel Pink offers his view on assessment:
“…the more we grade creative work, the less of it students will do.” [Who Owns the Learning? p.26]
Garth Holman (a middle school teacher and collaborator/co-creator with his students for an online wiki world history textbook) weighs in on the legacy of his students’ work as a motivator.
“It [the wiki] empowers them [his students] because it lives on. It lives on after they’ve moved through seventh grade. Now they’re into high school and some kids are approaching college, and their book is still there, and they can see their original text, where it started, and how it’s morphed. I think that motivates kids. Daniel Pink has it right when he gives the idea that if you truly get creative work, points don’t matter. It’s when the work is mundane that the points matter.” [Who Owns the Learning? p.83]
An insight worthy of further reflection . . ..