Monday, May 18, 2009

Re-inventing education

Having finished Tony Wagner's The Global Achievement Gap, I am intrigued by many of his ideas.  Though I was critical of what I felt were some generalizations and red herrings earlier, there is much to investigate.  Some of the areas in which Wagner asks valid questions are "testing," "reinventing the education profession," and "motivating today's students" (in different ways than motivating student years ago).  While I don't believe there are fundamental flaws with the system as a whole, I believe Wagner is right when he asks, "what does it mean to be an educated adult in the twenty-first century" and "how do we define rigor in the age of the information explosion" and "how do we create better assessments and accountability systems that give us the information we need."

In terms of testing, I have never been a vigorous critic of standardized testing, though I acknowledge its flaws.  There is such an arbitrary nature to the questions on the exams, especially in terms of content and vocabulary.  Without a standard national curriculum or even state curriculum with a set vocabulary list, there is a problematic component to reading assessment.  Even the AP exams - while they definitely identify academically committed and skilled students - don't necessarily identify clearly the "critical thinking skills" that Wagner proposes and communities and employers demand.

However, Wagner offers some intriguing information on the new Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA) which is "an open-ended, ninety-minute performance assessment in which students have to demonstrate their reasoning, problem-solving, and writing skills while attempting to solve a real-world problem."  From the description of this test and system, it seems like a great development in assessment, and its components should become more standard even in the classroom.  It's worth more discussion.   What do you think?

1 comment:

Mrs. C said...

I clicked around the CLA website for a bit. It would have been nice to see some sample questions, etc. but I couldn't find any.

It looks at first glance, though, to be precisely the sort of test my elementary-aged children would bomb. They can tell me about parts of speech and whether a sentence is a command, declarative, interrogative, or exclamation... all the things I never learned. They are learning spelling (I never learned, nor do I use a spellcheck. I just "know" how to spell somehow). They are beginning to diagram sentences, separating subjects from predicates and drawing linking verb arrows, etc.

Wow, they are learning a lot of things I never knew! I am learning with them, because I knew a noun from a verb, but that was about it.

But they can't write good sentences every time they're prompted (yet!). We are of course working on writing regularly with our reading. I have a BA in English and have been a reporter on a daily, but it seems that writing does not come naturally for young boys and is a "less favoured" subject. I am hoping much of our troubles are "developmental" and that the skills, with good practice, will come later.

One teacher friend recommended that after writing time, that my children correct their mistakes and rewrite the sentences correctly. :]

I don't know whether I should be surprised that I didn't know all of these grammar rules, and could still write, or if I should be surprised that my sons know many, many grammar rules and yet still have trouble.