Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Bum in the Seat?

Recently, in a small group e-learning workshop, a colleague of mine was reinforcing the need for teachers to use what she called "bum in the seat" assessment. The intent of this 'pictorial' cue was to reinforce for teachers the fact that in evaluating student learning, we must be sure that students are demonstrating knowledge & understanding, thinking, communication, and application in the presence of the teacher.

My problem with the term "bum in the seat", is that it leads educators to envision the student meeting curriculum expectations independently, while sitting at a desk. Exacerbating the problem is the fact that educators predominantly rely upon the written word as the valid way for students to demonstrate their learning, in spite of the fact that modern curriculum documents require that teachers assess expectations that point to skills like demonstrate, collect, identify, predict, compare, interpret, create, express, generate, publish, establish...

Curriculum documents in Ontario also ask teachers to engage community resources and to provide authentic audiences for student work. Students, thinking both logically and creatively; and producing content in written, oral and multimedia forms, are required to produce wide variety of cross-curricular products. Undertaking such a wide range of prescribed learning experiences is not possible with students sitting in desks.

As educators, let's get in the habit of assessing what students DO, instead of what students WRITE. Take time to observe with a critical eye, and to document what students accomplish against established standards. It would help if provincial assessments undertaken by the Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) in Ontario, would harness something other than written tests in assessing reading; but don't let it stop you from modeling the types of assessment practices that are clearly stated in the front matter within our curriculum documents.

Note: This image is a model of a desk designed and constructed at school by students as part of a rich performance task. You can't demonstrate this type of thinking and learning by writing a test!