Inside the Black Box

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2 thoughts on “Inside the Black Box”

  1. Some quotes from the article that I find particularly pertinent:
    Approaches are used in which pupils are compared with one another, the prime purpose of which seems to be competition rather than personal improvement; in consequence, assessment feedback teaches low-achieveing pupils that they lack “ability,” causing them to come to believe that they are not able to learn.
    And these approaches are reinforced by standardized testing, which is norm-referenced rather than standards-referenced. If someone scores in the 99th percentile, it tells the person nothing about number of right and wrong answers or how well he or she scored in relation to standards. It merely means that this person scored better than 99% of the people taking the test. During the last week at the AP Institute, one exchange brought out clearly the whole sham to me. Several participants were concerned that student scores will go down with the new test. Our presenter assured everyone that they will not because College Board will adjust the raw scores as necessary for a 5, 4, 3, 2 or 1. The participant was talking about standard-referenced work, and the presenter was talking about norm-referenced work – but she didn’t see the disjunct that was so obvious to me. And this was a highly competent, well-respected presenter. (I did enjoy the sessions.)
    . . . political movements characterized by a distrust of teachers and a belief that external testing will, on its own, improve learning. . . . Moreover, the traditional reliance on multiple-choice testing in the U.S. . . . has exacerbated the negative effects of such policies on the quality of classroom learning.
    Now there is a powerful indictment of NCLB and RTTT.
    When the classroom culture focuses on rewards, . . . then pupils look for ways to get the best marks rather than improve their learning. . . . many become reluctant to ask questions out of a fear of failure. Pupils who encounter difficulties are led to believe that they lack ability, and this belief leads them to attribute their difficulties to a defect in themselves about which they cannot do a great deal.
    What is needed is a culture of success, backed by a belief that all pupils can achieve.
    Hurrah for TCI/TPRS!
    . . . the choice of tasks for classroom work and homework is important. Tasks have to be justified in terms of the learning aims that they serve, and they can work well only if opportunities for pupils to communicate their evolving understanding are built into the planning.
    Read Alfie Kohn lately?
    A particular feature of the talk between teacher and pupils is the asking of questions by the teacher. This natural and direct way of checking on learning is often unproductive. One common problem is that, following a question, teachers do not wait long enough to allow pupils to think out their answers. When a teacher answers his or her own question after only two or three seconds and when a minute of silence is not tolerable, there is no possibility that a pupil can think out what to say.
    Are they channeling Ben? Hm, a minute in the native language. How much more time in the target language?
    So the teacher, by lowering the level of questions and by accepting answers from a few, can keep the lesson going but is actually out of touch with the understanding of most of the class. The question/answer dialogue becomes a ritual, one in which thoughtful involvement suffers.
    This one is here for me and is an area I’m targeting to work on next year. It’s far too easy to take the answers from the fast processors and go on.
    . . . the conditions under which formal tests are taken threaten validity because they are quite unlike those of everyday performance.
    Which is not to say that there should be no summative assessment, just that the form of the summative assessment needs to change.
    Arne Duncan, among others, needs to read this!

  2. …the form of the summative assessment needs to change….
    That’s the deal and circles back to what I understand to tbe original intent of your attempt to connect assessment with the three modes of communication, Robert. It fills me with hope that we can teach and assess all the kids in ways that honor their desire to learn. It fills me with hope that kids will one day:
    – in their new confidence in themselves in our classrooms, toss away looking for “ways to get the best marks rather than improve their learning. . . “.
    – cease being reluctant to “ask questions out of a fear of failure…”.
    – be freed from those atmospheres of “competition rather than personal improvement…”.
    Summative assessement – or maybe the lack of it, see below – may be the key to the whole thing. It may be the part of the engine that is actually broken. In our search for a smoother running Blainemobile*, we may have found the real problem, the one that egregiously affects the response of our kids to our instruction using comprehensible input. Everything else in the engine seems to be running fine – the part that Robert put his hand on in June is the part that is probably the broken part.
    There is not the slightest question that we who use CI in our instructino have superior formative assessment with our hand checks and teaching to the eyes and occasional translation checks (for regular, not ESL/CI classrooms). But can summative assessment really work? Can it withstand the tide of ignorance outlined above that is the legacy of almost all the teaching done in the last century?
    What we do with comprehensible input is really beautiful and so deeply different from the dark and judgmental ways of the past. No wonder it is so hard for people to grasp, even when they see it. We just talk to them in a lighthearted and heart centered way and they learn, unconsciously and therefor unself-consciously We need a way of honoring that instructional beauty with a beautiful way to assess them.
    We in very naive fashion actually expect the kids to come into our classrooms each year wanting to learn what we have to offer them and that expectation shoves aside in our minds the reality that their agenda is “What is the (summative) assessment going to be?” which usually takes the form of the sentence “Is this on the test?”
    That is why the few kids who actually do want to learn get so much attention in a CI class – they stand out like a sore thumb! So, if all forms of summative assessment and what the kids expect in terms of grading is driving their agenda forward, then it all goes back to the three modes and self reflection as per what Kate said a few days ago. Somehow, we must wrench away from the kids their mistaken notion that we are there to find something wrong with them. We must assess them in a way that is honest and honorable for all concerned (channeling Kate here).
    What is written in this link tells us what is wrong with the current system. But few, including those who claim to know, really have any solutions. They keep talking about the problem.
    I think that we may have as good a solution as any. Now that we are talking about the summative assessment piece, since Robert’s first post in early June about the three modes, repeating the point made above, we may be looking at the part of the engine that is truly broken.
    We in Denver just spent most of June working on a specific assessment instrument that addresses this entire problem. Each year it keeps getting better. We craft each test question – 8 of us in Spanish and 4 in French – with copies of proficiencies and outcomes and standards all over the tables we work at. We get into it.
    Only time will tell if that work will adequately address the above concerns. Personally, part of me wants to just chuck the entire concept of formative assessment and focus on developing ways to assess that are largely if not completely formative. There are no summative assessments given to kids growing up.

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