Static vs. Dynamic assessment

There are two common reasons for testing. First, the static fashion of determining roughly (and often rather arbitrarily) what students have learned and can repeat from the curriculum. Second, the dynamic fashion of assessing what has been learned so the teacher can adjust to the realities of the students’ experience. A third reason is, of course, to assess students for college admissions or their status as compared to other students, but this standardized mode of testing is so pedagogically problematic and even vulgar that I find it hard to mention it.

The first is by far the most common. It is driven by the need to produce data for administrative supervisors and has minimal value as an aid to student learning.

The second is less common in one sense, but on the other hand, every good teacher is doing it continually. So it is less formally common, but informally, I hope, much more common. It is certainly more necessary.

If teaching involves a relationship, one would hope that the teacher is in a continual interaction with the student so as to adjust her teaching according to teh circumstances and reality of the actual student in her presence instead of a theoretical student who fits somewhere on a bell curve.

I refer the reader to this article at Edweek on how some schools are even formalizing what I shall call “dynamic assessment”: Testing to Teach: Using Assessment to Shape Instruction

Here at CiRCE, we apply dynamic assessment in the way we teach The Lost Tools of Writing.

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A good solution

A while ago I posted on an article from Wendell Berry in which he presented a model of thinking that seems to me to be essential to understanding and living with reality. It’s an ancient way of thinking, rooted in accepting our limits and loving wisdom; and it’s a way of thinking that seems to have been set aside by neglect. We simply don’t apply this common sense to our thoughts any more.

The basic idea is that we can’t understand what we are studying or thinking about if we don’t see it in its relations to the realities around it. He was applying his thoughts to farming and agriculture. I would like to apply them to education.

I found a post from my earlier and lost blog on Hirsch and Gardner that I resurrected and inserted below. Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences can illustrate my point. The IQ test was developed in early 20th century to measure people’s intelligence in relation to other people. What benefits they legitimately hoped to derive from this effort we can wonder. Certainly it created a number of problems, not least of which was the rather truncated view of intelligence it encouraged people to hold.

Practically speaking, IQ holds up a certain kind of intelligence as the summa of intelligence and treats the rest as if it doesn’t exist (which approximates a fine definition of the literal meaning of the word “despise”). It took about 60 years for somebody to develop a theory that could displace the limitations of the theory of IQ, and that was Howard Gardner with his notion of multiple intelligences.

In my view, both theories are too analytical and will be harmful in the hands of the superficial thinkers who make most of our educational decisions. Wise men and women will be able to benefit from both.

The immediate point I am trying to make is that IQ treated a certain kind of analytical intelligence as the whole of intelligence, disregarded what stood outside of its measuring system, and therefore harmed people measured by it. In other words, it created a structure of thought and action that was incapable of fulfilling the thinkers responsibility to the realities that remained outside the system.

That serves as a pretty good summary of what bothers me most about modernist thought. If its tools don’t detect something, it concludes that the thing doesn’t exist. Concluding that it doesn’t exist, it ignores that thing. But that thing might well be the well spring of life for what is being studied. The modernist can never find this out, because the faculties of perception have been shuttered.

As Berry put it: “A bad solution is bad, then, because it acts destructively upon the larger patters in which it is contained. It acts destructively upon those patterns, most likely, because it is formed in ignorance or disregard of them…. A good solution is good because it is in harmony with those larger patterns.”

Here’s the point: we Christian classical educators make much of our desire to teach children how to think. The patterns of our thought are every bit as vital as the content. We must think in patterns that reflect reality. What Berry is describing is just such a pattern, and it is one that was practiced until well into the Enlightenment. Therefore, our schools must be structured to teach children to think in patterns like this.

We move in this direction when we integrate our curricula, but we err when we mistake overlapping for integration. Integration never challenges the integrity of the subject, the teacher, or the student.

In Berry’s essay he proposes 14 principles that we must follow to find a “good solution.” I hope to blog on them as they relate to school over the next few weeks.

Records or wins

Brett Favre tied the all time record for career touchdown passes yesterday and said he didn’t care. He wanted to win.

 He must have been a terrible student in school, where all anybody cares about is records.

More importantly, he demonstrates one of life’s great principles: Care about what matters most and things that matter less follow in their wake. Seek first the kingdom of God and the rest will be added to you.