As a high school teacher, I can openly assert that much of the conversation around assessment is grounded in a post-secondary conversation. The culture of assessment in high school, for the most part, is still focused on a self-proclaimed awareness of what is needed and expected in university or college. As such, assessment is cemented in content; what students supposedly need to know in order to be prepared for their next educational step.
Here’s the problem: The post-secondary experience that many high school teachers experienced may not be the experience that is presently taking shape. “Preparing” students as educators might proclaim may not be grounded in authentic practice. In a culture where the notion of “traditional” is beginning to evaporate a major universities, its time to re-assess how, why and what we assess at the high school level.
Today’s Reality: To fully prepare students for post-secondary, whether it be college of university, is to ensure that an understanding of content does not overshadow the need for transferrable skills. We need to ensure that students are active learners, innovative and are able to collaborate, self-regulate, communicate effectively, organize etc. As such, the learning skills that are often overlooked in courses (and let’s be honest – a second thought on the provincial report card) need to be intentionally taught and evaluated. I wonder how many students really know what those learning skills are. More pressingly, how many class teachers speak to those skills or can make reference to Growing Success as a resource to contextualize meaning?
To “prepare” our students is to ensure that skills (not just content) is intentionally taught. A student who can self-regulate and is organized can work to gain content knowledge at their own level. Equally, being a “master” of content does not mean that a student can effectively collaborate – an essential skill within a global and connected economic and social landscape. These skills matter.
Take for example this true life incident: I stand in line at Canadian Tire. Ahead of me is a gentleman who is growing frustrated with the teen cashier. The teen, rather than addressing the costumer, openly ignores him so a conversation with a visiting high school friend can be concluded; the big talk was Gr. 12 exams. Once the gentleman loses his patience and gently asks for the cashier to concentrate on the task, the employee chooses to be rude, indifferent and continues to hold a side conversation. The man looks at me in disgust as he bags his own items and walks away. The cashier continues with the conversation as I approach.
This is the problem! This high school student, working as a cashier, could not self-regulate. There was not only immaturity on display but importantly an inability to understand time and place.
In her writing titled Targeted Skill Development: Building Blocks to Better Learning, Dr. Maryellen Weimer notes amongst the challenges of teaching at the post-secondary level is the need to manage content delivery with “targeted skill development” and also acknowledges that “few learning skills develop well without explicit instruction.” Now, these skills may differ from those on the Ontario provincial report card, but the need to address skills are paramount. How can we assess them if we are not intentionally and strategically targeting them?
The End is Really the Beginning: Now that the much needed summer break is on the horizon, it’s important to disengage, refresh and approach each new school year with a professional goal. For me as a new department head, I want to be an authentic instructional support. To do so, I have to ground my own goals in the reality that skills matter. Perhaps, this is just the beginning of my next annual learning plan.