We want transformation not augmentation

Written by: Jordan Tinney

Published On: October 15th 2013

Pupa system transformationI am often reminded that language travels a lot faster than behavioral change. Recently, I have been thinking just what a process of transformation means for our education system in practical terms. Everyone seems to be talking about transformation, but have we really delved into just what “transformation” means beyond a new curriculum and how we make that transformation happen? Last year, I encountered a great description of just what was the difference between true transformation and simple substitution, so it seemed like a timely and topical blog as we look ahead toward what is to come.

First, the model I encountered was Ruben Puentedura’s SAMR model. He was talking at the time about the use of technology but it fit so well for any conversation about transformation. If you take Ruben’s model and substitute “curriculum” for technology, it provides a great tool to consider what things we would call transformative and what things would only be enhancements to what we do. Just as technology is a means to an end, so is a curriculum guide. If the end goal is transformation, how do we get there? This journey begins with a description of just what we mean by transformation. In a direct substitution of “curriculum” for “tech” in Puentedura’s work:

  • Substitution: curriculum acts as a direct tool substitute, with no functional change
  • Augmentation: curriculum acts as a direct tool substitute, with functional improvement
  • Modification: curriculum allows for significant task redesign
  • Redefinition: curriculum allows for the creation of new tasks, previously inconceivable

Peuntedura suggests that if we are acting at the substitution or augmentation level, then all we are doing is enhancing what is already in place. This process is not, in itself transformative. However, when you move to modification or redefinition, then you are in the transformative domain.

system change transformationAs we get prepared for a new DRAFT curriculum to emerge, I have also been thinking that if we are after transformation, are we more likely to achieve it through the curriculum initiatives or through the assessment initiatives? Of course it’s not an either/or but if we are going to achieve system transformation then we need to completely redefine not only what is taught and how it is being taught, but we need to redefine the ways in which we assess learning and communicate to the learner and home. From my perspective, the assessment work is at the crux of transformation since this is the bridge between the teacher, learner, and home. Assessment is often an emotional interface between the teacher, the child and their parents and then as students get older, it is bridge to post-secondary whether that be formal education or not. Assessment is ultimately how we communicate out what our learners know and the degree to which they are competent, confident and capable.

A system transformation of assessment absolutely must include conversations with post-secondary that begin to redefine entrance requirements. As long as we currently have requirements for universities being described in percent scores in individual secondary courses, we will never manage to get to a more holistic and supportive assessment framework. The stakes for parents and students are enormous and there likely will be considerable push back to move to a system-wide approach that does not include the convenience of percent as a gatekeeper for whether one is worthy of attending a university or not.

The landscape of assessment transformation is varied. If we tackle the K-9 years without new frameworks for the graduation years, then we will be dropping our learners into a new world of learning and assessment when they enter grade 10. We need to prepare a bridge for them.

I will end with a couple of clarifying notes. First, I realize and acknowledge that there is more to life after school than formal post secondary education. My point is that if we don’t start to get in front of the assessment and evaluation framework that is the bridge between secondary and post secondary and if we don’t include parents and post-secondary in the conversations, we may face significant public outcry if we suggest any changes from the status quo. This may undermine our transformative efforts in all areas. A new curriculum may emerge, but practices to match the intended transformation will not.

Next, I have not commented on the power of formative assessment whichI believe is, in itself, transformative. However this blog largely is about summarize assessments and how they unfold. No matter what we believe about formative assessment, summative assessment is still an important part of the puzzle. Routine powerful practices of assessment that inform the learner and instruction may be lost if, at the end of the day, the final report out is that Jordan got 78.4% in English 12.

If we are interested in system transformation, we need public support and understanding. I don’t believe there will be much discontent about the need for a new and revised curriculum which takes us in a logical and progressive direction. When you enter the world after school, people want to know if you can think critically, problem solve independently and in collaborative groups. Can you communicate well, take risks and follow through and are you a lifelong learner? As long as a curriculum teaches toward the ideal of a lifelong learner with skills to contribute to society there will be broad-based support. However, when those conversations head toward summative assessment, we will enter into the realm of deeply help values and belief systems that connect to home, school, and post-secondary. When our local post-secondary institutions go to decide from tens of thousands of applicants, how will they evaluate who deserves entry and who will not? How will parents and students know the likelihood of entry to university or college? Right now that gatekeeper for post-secondary is mostly percent and as every parent who has applied for their child knows, those marks matter and determine the future opportunities, scholarships, and lifelong dreams for many.

If we revise a curriculum without a timely and congruent revision of assessment then I believe we will not achieve our goal. We run the risk of simply enhancing a system that we all know well. I know the dreams of many are to see a transformation. From a world of discreet learning outcomes in disconnected subjects to a place of big ideas, cross curricular competencies and freedom for teachers to go a mile deep as opposed to a mile wide. To a place in secondary education that looks a lot more like that which our primary teachers enjoy now. A place that is less about coverage and more about learning.

Butterfly on leaf after emerging from chrysalis

Finally, if we accept Puentedura’s model and transformation is what we wish, then the future of learning is something that we have yet to envision. We will head toward a learning environment, perhaps powered by technology that has been “previously inconceivable.” Whatever that looks like, I hope that we have our curriculum, assessment and evaluation ducks in line so we have every opportunity reach this bright future. I think that people are excited about the opportunities ahead.

At least a significant percentage of people that I speak to are…


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