Thursday, February 27, 2014

moving toward self-assessed learning

I am reading David J. Whittaker's new book on the Impact and International Legacy of Educational Sloyd, and in it he addresses the continuing impact of Sloyd on Scandinavian education. The following is from the 20004 Finnish National Curriculum. develop pupils' skills with crafts so that their self-esteem grows on that basis and they derive joy and satisfaction from their work. In addition their sense of responsibility for the work and the use of material increases and they learn to appreciate the quality of the material and work, and to take a critical, evaluative stance towards their own choices and the ideas, products and services offered. The instruction is implemented through projects and subject areas corresponding to the pupils' state and development and uses experimentation, investigation and invention. The instructional tasks in crafts are to guide the pupil in systematic, sustained, independent work, and to develop creativity, problem solving skills, an understanding of everyday technological phenomena, and aesthetic, technical, and psycho-motor skills. The pupil receives an introduction to the cultural traditions of handicrafts among Finns and other people.
At the present time in American schooling, the children are sent off each day from the watchful eyes of mothers and fathers and return to their families at day's end. During the child's absence from the home, loving parents having seen nothing of what the child has learned each day are dependent on standardized testing, notes home, quarterly grades, conferences and what little conversation they can pry out of their child for any understanding of the child's learning or growth. Every moment the teacher is assessing and artificially recording the child's learning and growth, the teacher is not teaching and engaging the child in leaning and growth. Add to that the high number of children in each classroom, and the teacher's task in assessing and recording student progress is enormous.

And so what if we had some means through which children might assess their own performance? And what if there was some simple way through which student learning and success could be easily monitored by parents as witnesses of their child's learning and growth without abstract and subjective schemes of assessment? And what if teachers were to just teach, instruct, and care for their children instead of being held responsible to obsessively measure their performance at every twist and turn?

In Finland teachers say that if you want an elephant to grow, you don't measure it, you feed it. So it is with the mind of a child. Our own parental and strategic insecurities about what happens in schools drives the American obsession with standardized testing that's destroying American education.

A belief shared by all the early progressive educators, like Froebel, Pestalozzi, Herbart, Comenius, and others was that what a child learns must be expressed in some form of outward activity. Cygnaeus, inventor of Sloyd, and Salomon who made an international movement of it, followed Froebel's lead in the use of crafts for strategic purposes. Crafts provide a concrete means for student self and peer assessment, and also convey an understanding of what happens in school and what the child learned in school to the family of the child, making certain each day that parents find confidence in their child's teacher and the classroom experience. Why be dependent on obviously contrived means of assessment?  Use real assessment to monitor real learning, by asking the children to do real things.

A reintroduction of craft (and woodworking) education in schools would be the first step in reshaping American education. Parents and policy makers are addicted to standardized testing because they have no other way of understanding whether or not children are learning. Reliance upon standardized testing has become an ugly habit, and changing habitual responses and understandings requires the introduction of more compelling opportunities.

Yesterday in the CSS wood shop, my lower elementary school students made rock digging mallets to help when they go hunting for fossils.

Make, fix, create and help others to do likewise.

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