Education has become increasingly low trust. We have to keep proof of everything we do, all the decisions we make, the progress kids make in their learning, the progress we make in ours.
A big focus is on the evidence. We have to document the evidential breadcrumbs to show the trail. I believe strongly though we are collecting huge amounts of evidence (which takes a huge amount of time!) when we could often be a bit smarter and use exemplars. When we talk about evidence we often mean every little thing that can find to show we did the right thing. If the brown stuff hits the spinny thing we have to have enough written down – or stored online, portfolio-ed, blogged, pintrest-ed, moodle-d or whatever – to show it was not our fault, we made the right decision, the kid did know what we said. We did everything we could and should have done. Teachers keep huge amounts of data – scores, notes, observations, and so-on.
Apart from the sadness of no longer assuming competence and the rise of the blame culture I think we need to focus more often on exemplars instead of simply gathering piles of evidence. Exemplars are quite different in my view. They exemp-LIFY. They are carefully chosen artifact that shows a whole trail of thinking or logic or learning. An example may show what I mean. We could keep a lot of data/evidence of a kids ability to multiply basic facts, solve problems, understand place value, etc …. or …. an annotated sample of a 2×2 (or more) digit multiplication problem solved quickly and with working that then shows:
- basic facts knowledge – tables facts must be knowledge or they would have taken a lot longer to work it out if they had to solve each tables problem with materials or on their fingers.
- place value knowledge – they must understand PV to keep things in columns if solve in an algorithm or if 'split' in some way into tens and ones as a strategy
- understanding of multiplication as a concept – repeated addition, whatever the strategy used shows
- addition knowledge – depending on the strategy chosen
- strategy – and the sophistication of the strategy shows you the 'level' or 'stage' of mathematical understanding
…. and are a few more things too, but you get my point ….
(Information for formative purposes is different. But is doesn't need to be exhaustively comprehensive – just focused and informative of the classroom/childs programme.)
In order to be an exemplar the sample, or the collection of samples, also need to be annotated. This should include things like:
- date – we can only be certain what the kid knows now, today, in this context …. we are making no claims they will have it sussed tomorrow, the next day or especially weeks or months into the future.
- context – how was the activity set up? How much teacher/peer support was there? Was this at the end of the learning sequence or at the beginning? How heavily was it scaffolded?
- achievement – does it show what the kid can do ….in your overall experience of the topic is this a representative sample or did they blow it or fluke it? This could be a short note …. and only note something if you need to.
- summative assessment – overall how have they done? Is there a level this shows?
Much of this information is generic to all the kids who completed the task and so can be cut-and-pasted. The judgment is the bit that that is individualised. It is information that could be kept in a form as simple as a class list; with the generic information detailed at the top. Only the exceptional things need to be noted. If a student did as we expected and performed to a particular level a simple letter, symbol or number may tell us everything wer need to know. We have to be smart about this stuff.
The same is true of documenting our professional learning. We have a multitude of requirements to meet from different regulatory bodies, or from our school. Lets keep exemplars of practice that show we are meeting a range of requirements through a single activity, reflection, change in practice, etc – rather than what are often simply a list of activities that may or may not have actually had any impact on our pedagogy.
Keep it simple, keep it effective, keep it focused.