Know learning


In my last post, Obsession with Assessment, I confessed that I once blurted out, “I don’t give a shit about assessment. I’m a teacher, I KNOW what learning looks like.” To be clear, the entire post was focused solely on our country’s obsession with standardized testing which is summative assessment.


A friend pointed out that my piece was flawed because I was obsessed with assessment… formative assessment. That gave me a pause for thought and then a good laugh. He is right! Isn’t that exactly what “I’m a teacher, I KNOW what learning looks like” means? Good teachers are constantly engaged in formative assessment as they watch their students and make adjustments to lessons and individual instructions based on what they observe.This kind of assessment is like breathing to a professional educator.


Of course, companies like Pearson do not able to make money on formative assessments. And, politicians have no sexy statistics to hold up to demonstrate the success of their office or the failure of an opponent.


Formative assessment is that intangible skill that feeds learning itself… and allows it to grow.


I believe my friend is right, I am obsessed with formative assessment. I’m constantly tuned into what is happening in my classroom and with my students. Is is working? If it’s not, I change… and keep changing until I find what works. This is the process that pushes me beyond status quo to find creative solutions. This sometimes even inspires completely new and unique curricula.

Doesn’t this tweet via @catcookgreim say it all?-“Not everything that matters can be measured, and not everything that’s measured matters [Elliott Eisner] ” #DML2014

I am a teacher. I KNOW what learning looks like. It can be read in the face of students and seen in their body language. It can hear it in the quality of a single voice or the buzz of an entire room. It’s intuitive… but people always recognize it when they see it.

I often use virtual worlds or multi-player online games to create dynamic spaces for learning. People observing us “playing games” often confess initial skepticism turning into awe when they listen to the depth of the conversation and witness the high level of student engagement and ownership. It’s powerful to observe and easy to recognize it when it is present.


We need to follow Lily Eskelsen Garcia’s call to, “Stop the Stupid”. We cannot move forward in addressing our broken system of education as long as summative assessment is our only focus and the only assessment we value. Training students to mark bubbles on a piece of paper does not prepare them to function in the real world. We need step back and return our focus to the learning. We need to trust that teachers actually know what that looks like. We are constantly engaged in formative assessment and recalculating when necessary. We don’t need Pearson or politicians dictating how to best serve students. We are the professionals. We KNOW what learning looks like!