Learning Environments and Assessment

This week’s reading is chapter 6 of How People Learn called The Design of Learning Environments, which begins with a brief history of how education has changed in the United States from rote copying to critical thinking. I’ve always found this topic fascinating and it was my favorite part of the Education class I took my first year as an undergraduate, because the ideas of what needs to be taught and how can really change so much. Also I’ve always been struck by how American education is moved so much by trends and new information, it seems faster than other parts of the world.

Learner-centered environments seem like they would be the most effective for early in education, because they make the educational place safe for students that might be wary of it. It could be a way for students without much experience of a student environment to feel as if their knowledge is important and help them have ownership of what’s going on in the classroom.

Knowledge-centered environments on the other hand focus more on making sure the students truly understand the information on multiple levels and can manipulate it on their own. The examples presented in the book focus on math and science because the distance because understanding in these disciplines is trickier than just knowing. This part of the book made me think a lot about how the AP exam in science is transforming so that the focus is on students being scientists as opposed to just memorizing information. I really like the phrase “Learning the landscape” to describe this type of teaching because it shows how important it is to have the students be oriented and be able to explore the discipline on their own terms.

Assessment-centered environments have two types of assessment-formative which is what I think of as feedback and happens throughout the process of learning and then summative assessment that occurs at the end to see what the student has learned. The current public education system seems built on summative assessment versus formative because it is usually the easier thing to assess, do you know this versus how well do you know this? It seems like there needs to be a place in between which balances both types of assessment and mixes them in with all the other types of learning environments so that students can know what they’ve learned. Formative assessment is something that I feel rather personally connected to because I know that one of the ways I learn best is by constantly talking about or writing about what I’m doing. This helps me see where I went wrong with one thing and how I can best fix it. I feel like a good way to work formative assessment into a program is to at the beginning ask students how they learn and what helps them and then this can be worked into things. The only thing is that this requires more time than most teachers have to dedicate to assessment, which is a shame.

Community-centered environments make so much sense, because they acknowledge what’s always been true, school is a huge community and each classroom has its own feeling. For four summers, I was part of a summer camp that worked as an intentional community with group meetings four nights a week and a everyone working together to make things work. Each summer was incredibly different depending on the attitudes that the campers brought in and how they interacted with the set norms and constantly changing norms of the community. This experience taught me how difficult it is to create a safe and happy community for everyone, but that it is so important and I carry those lessons with me. In a classroom, the idea of creating a community must tie back into the learner-centered environment because the norms of communities can vary so much and a teacher needs to be aware of what is expected of their students outside the classroom.

I like the use of the word Alignment to talk about how all of these environments and assessments need to be brought together in a classroom and a school. This seems like it would be the toughest part of being an administrator, getting inside each classroom and making sure that every teacher is working along the same lines and every student is having their best experience.

The second reading for this week is by D. Royce Sadler and called Formative Assessment and the Design of Instructional Systems from 1989.

I like how Sadler lays out the idea that the power of formative assessment is that is can help students get the same idea of quality as the teacher, this is an effective way of putting across that students need to understand why they’re learning and how. Sadler divides this into three distinct parts the student has a concept of a the goal or standard needed, compare the actual performance with the standard and then closing the gap between the two so the student can reach the goal. This is a good way to describe the process of learning, you figure out what you need to know, try and learn it and then figure out where you’re wrong and correct it.

I’m struck by the idea of how teachers carry around standards in their head which can work for or against students along with this idea of unconscious ranking, because it points out how teachers think as they grade. The balance to this is providing examples along with descriptions for students so that there’s an objective standard for a student to work towards. The rest of the article talks about the challenges of bringing these ideas into the classroom since evaluation and assessment can vary depending on the subject and the teacher. It seems as if the take away from this article is that teachers need to be aware of what they’re really trying to teach and how to clearly get that across to their students.

Both these readings really point out how difficult assessment is, because so much of it relies on what is being taught and what the end goal for the learner is. A teacher needs to be aware of so many factors as they construct assignments and how they assess them and how they relay the the criteria for success to their students.

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3 Comments

Filed under professional practice reflection

3 responses to “Learning Environments and Assessment

  1. Kristin

    Thoughtful response to the readings. I look forward to tomorrow’s class.

  2. Kayla

    I agree with your comments about alignment being difficult. It is easy to look at all the different types of learning environments individually, but pulling them together into a cohesive whole seems challenging. Like, how to reconcile assessment (either type) with a knowledge-centered environment where students are permitted to explore a subject within the boundaries of their own understandings and capabilities.

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