TED Conversations

Brian Pelosi

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I propose we abandon traditional forms of assessment in schools to focus on a more creative learning environment.

We need to implement new ideas in our education system. Creative teaching may be a challenge for some teachers due to the heavy emphasis on state testing that we see today. As educators, to ensure the success of our students on the state tests, we must teach to the test. This could hinder the opportunity for teachers to be creative. How can we turn our classrooms into a more creative environment and a more enjoyable learning experience? It is my belief that students should find a way to prove their knowledge to the teachers. Seeing as how students all learn in different ways given Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences theory, they should be assessed in ways that adhere to their learning styles. Give your students the option to show you what they learned.

Today, in most professions, you get basic training or education before you start but most of your learning will occur in the field. Our job as educators is to prepare our students for the real world; so shouldn't most of our teaching occur in the real world? In order to learn life's lessons, students will most likely not be answering with a pen and a piece of paper. Life's lessons require action or demonstrations, so what are we preparing them for by relying so heavily on written tests?

We need to place less emphasis on the numbers that our students get out of our teachers and more about the experience our students receive. Education isn’t about which student is getting the best grades; education is about which student gets the most out of the experiences that our teachers provide. Almost every year, a teacher can probably pick out which student is their “smartest” student within the first two weeks of school. However, a teacher can almost never pick out which student will learn the most from them until the end of the year.

By solving this problem, we can also improve students’ opinions of school and change it from a place they HAVE to go to everyday to a place they WANT to go to everyday to learn new things.

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    May 13 2013: I'd like to see more individualized student portfolios used during student-led conferences.
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    May 12 2013: I believe in this! Time again I've been thinking that if schools focused on talents and nurturing this rather than having one set of educational system, it will only hinder the growth of children. It's like forcing them to fit in one mold.
    • May 12 2013: Absolutely, it is like that Albert Einstein quote, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” Each student has their own strengths and weaknesses, we have to support that, so that they can learn how to turn their weaknesses into strengths.
  • May 7 2013: I totally agree.
    I find it disturbing that education evolves around quantity over quality, remembering facts is awesome, but if you don't know when to apply it, then it's useless
    I'm in college, and even though we don't do state testing here, I still see the same attitudes in some of my professors as I did in HS. All teaching is based on what's on tests, we're given everything except the test itself. There's no focus on what we learn, but what we can remember, and even given the option of cheat sheets.
    It's all about enhancing test scores, passing grades, and graduation rates to make the teacher and school look good. So they can post on their website all the awards their school gets based off test scores.
    Now, not ALL schools or teachers are like this, but if you think about it, you know a school or teacher that is.
    I feel the scientific theory should be applied to all subjects, let our kids experiment and experience.
    • May 8 2013: I agree, we need to give our students the opportunity to make mistakes and learn from them. They have to experiment to learn how to problem solve and how to figure things out on their own. Memorizing information only shows which students have the greatest memory.
  • May 7 2013: I will say, as an educator, my most enjoyable classes were elective classes with little oversight. I did projects and enjoyed the learning the kids made while creating, building, and designing. I hate creating tests just to get "data" for someone higher up.
    • May 8 2013: How neat, Everett - learning is reciprocal! Educators can get as much out of a lesson as kids can this way!

      When I started directing a children's choir, the first thing I did was involve the kids in making up a set of their very own 'house rules'. (I must give credit where credit is due - it was my Mom's suggestion, she has been an educator for more than 3 decades.) I wrote down their ideas on a big piece of paper, and the kids drew pictograms to illustrate each rule. We hang that piece of paper up during every rehearsal. Because the kids made up those rules themselves, and played an active role in designing them, they adhere to them without question!
      • May 9 2013: Your creation of rules for the group, okay your mom's, is a great one. Way to go Mom!

        We forget that education is supposed to be fun and about learning in our haste to get data. We forget that kids sometimes just need to have fun and explore and they will learn amazing things. The teachers get to be guides and learners at the same time. Education is far more fun that way for all involved.
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    May 6 2013: As an education enthusiast, I love this idea and I know many others who agree with you. I do have a question for you though. In order to make students prove themselves and use the real world, many educators have promoted project based learning within schools. When attempts are made to implement project based learning, teachers find it too much work and burdensome so it fails. What can be done to change this attitude? Or do you have a better solution than project based learning?
    • May 7 2013: Project based learning is great. Although it may take more time and effort, I think the results speak for themselves. As I stated in another comment, for my senior project in high school, we were given the opportunity to do our senior project on anything we wanted to, and present it in anyway we wanted to. It took some time to take care of all the presentations but it was something that all of us as students were really interested in. We enjoyed doing the project and especially presenting it to our peers. Everything has its pros and cons.
      • May 8 2013: Time and effort seems to be our most valuable commodities, Brian.
        I know educators who are 'sitting out there time' till they can finally retire. My university experience was partially spoiled due to the unenthusiastic and frustrated professors I was more or less ignored by.
        But there are passionate educators out there, ready to 'spend' their valuable time and effort on a better educational system, many of which are right here on TED, contributing to this very discussion, and other education-related conversations!
        Allowing students the space - at ANY age - is vital in helping them learn from within themselves and apply that knowledge in society - we're all in this together, after all!

        You mentioned, doing the project and presenting it to your peers was especially enjoyable. Would you say, that your appreciation for others' interpretations of this particular 'open-ended' project, higher than projects that had more finite guidelines?
  • May 6 2013: Absolutely! Here, here, Brian!
    But...easier said than done.
    I am also trying, in my own way, to come up an educational 'supplement' that will help kids learn using their own creativity. It's a conversation going on right now, called 'Integrating Music into our Everyday Lives' - I'm curious what you think of that approach!
    http://www.ted.com/conversations/18167/integrating_music_into_our_eve.html
    • May 7 2013: Thank you for your support!! I did check out your page and video as well. I left a comment too!
  • May 6 2013: As long as the states and national government mandate that teachers do standardized testing, the schools will be tied to teaching to the test. That is a simple fact of education where the test drives all. The public likes to cite other countries as being "more academically successful" based on their, you guessed it, test scores, so policymakers follow that lead and demand improvement on test scores. No other measure really matters to those people at the top.

    As I read your direction of special education, alternative assessment will be your life. Not standardized testing for the most part. Which is a benefit and a curse you will find in your field where individual education is the highest priority. I do sincerely wish you the best in your field of study and I do truly admire anyone going into SPED.

    Formative assessments are the easiest, but also the least reliable. Simply checking in with kids is easy. Asking the basic questions of "explain this to me" can provide a lot of feedback on the students knowledge, and good educators do that all the time. There are also a wide variety of project based assessments out there that teachers use for their students. They do take more time to prep and the results can vary on these projects. These are the types of assessments that do matter and should be given the most time. But, when the principal wants data right now, these don't provide it. So, system wide changes do need to be made.
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      May 6 2013: At this point, Everett, wouldn't you say that checking in with students while they work, asking them to explain back, noting the quality of their discourse while working with peers, and project-based assessments would need to be called "traditional?" All of these ways of assessing students' learning have been in widespread use, I believe, for at least half a century, even in giant public school districts.

      There were annual standardized tests also half a century ago, much worse ones than there are now, but they were much less the focus of state or national level examination at that time. I remember needing to carry around the little report of standardized test stanines in the sixties.

      What I have seen more in the last decade is choice for students in showing what they know. For example, my son in high school last week needed to show in some visual way how well he understood protein synthesis. He chose to design a game, while other students may have done multi-media presentations, made comic books, and so forth. I expect there was also a conventional exam as well as homework and lab write-ups.
      • May 7 2013: I would tend to agree with these statements, though I would disagree on one point. The different types of assessment are very much in the "traditional" realm just because we have done them so much. The use of authentic assessments, even though they are the goal, have gone by the wayside just because they are time-consuming and don't provide enough data to satisfy parents and administrators. Mostly due to the fact that they are higher stakes and provide fewer opportunities to "pass" the subject than other assessment types. The project your son completed is a great example of what should be done more. But, as you most likely know, it was a time consuming piece that, those who could commit the time and were interested, were very successful. Others probably did not do as well due to lack of commitment or various other reasons. But I digress...

        My one point of disagreement is the "stakes" of the testing. I have not see the stress level of state testing at such a high level as it is now. The emphasis, in some states, on high stakes testing, is causing kids to get sick, not sleep, and causing panic attacks, then the teachers are also feeling that pressure because they are considered "failing" if their kids don't do well. Now everything is also online so everyone can see how your district and school are doing. It increases the stress on the entire school population in the effort to "see how kids are doing".
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          May 7 2013: I definitely know it increases stress on the school population, other than students who know they would always pass such a test. In my state, though, no one actually fails to move forward because of performance on a test, as there is always an alternate route offered.
      • May 7 2013: This whole reply thing is just plain weird in this....

        I agree with you on the issue of increased stress. As well as the fact that the tests really don't mean anything to the students other than they might not get into a class they want or they just have low test scores. The direct impact though is on the schools who are told that they are "failing", or have been, because a certain segment of the population is not "meeting standard". The teachers feel the most stress because their kids "have to improve" at a level that the state expects over last years kids. Doesn't matter that those kids have moved on and this is a whole new batch with a whole new set of strengths and challenges.
    • May 7 2013: It is just like you said, "the principal wants data right now," and unfortunately, the testing is the quickest fix. It doesn't matter if the students are not good test takers. Perhaps they may be able to demonstrate their abilities in a different way, but we will rarely get the opportunity to see those demonstrations.

      Although, similarly to Fritzie, in my senior year of high school, we were given the opportunity to do our senior project on anything we wanted to, and present it in anyway we wanted to. This was an excellent project and as students we were able to show off our abilities and it provided a very interesting selection of presentations.
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    May 6 2013: Brian, are you a teacher? If so, how are you assessing your students? It may be instructive for teachers who notice your question to share the array of ways they assess their students' understanding and learning. Many people may believe that state paper and pencil tests are the only or main way teachers assess their students. Sharing actual methods of formative and summative assessments would be most welcome.
    • May 6 2013: Yes I am a certified teacher. I do not have a full time job at the moment though. I am currently working towards my masters in adolescent special education. I do understand that some teachers use various forms of assessments, but my point (possibly hard to believe) was to move towards less structure. Every system has it's pros and cons; I believe a benefit of this though would be our students are moving around more and getting experience in the real world where they can learn how to apply their knowledge. The focus is on not only the testing but the instruction.
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        May 6 2013: How exciting for you. I taught many years, and while standardized tests once a year felt to me like a real waste of potential instructional time, it intruded into perhaps one week, and otherwise all the monitoring and assessment of student understanding was my own, connected to what we were working on students' understanding and being able to do. Is there any classroom anywhere in the world, do you think, where the focus is on testing rather than instruction? Have you seen this in a school where you have taught?

        I have not taught special ed, other than inclusion, but doesn't each sped student have a customized Individual Education Plan that individualizes both pedagogy and assessment for that student? . That is true in my state and I thought much more broadly.
        • May 7 2013: I have seen schools in general that closer to testing time, must waste instruction time on teaching how to take the test and take practice tests because the state tests become such an important focus.
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        May 7 2013: I have seen that a little. Like teachers would have kids do a practice test before the real thing or do some sample problems. For example, my son has a three hour standardized test Wednesday and had one like it to do last week for homework.

        I wouldn't say that that is evidence at all that the class was focused on the test rather than the instruction. The class has been focused on instruction/learning and now there has been a practice test and a test will follow.

        One way states use standardized tests is to check whether schools are teaching kids enough of what people at the state level believe kids their age should understand and be able to do. There was a time, for example, when many elementary teachers hated teaching math and would teach it seldom- sometimes once a week.

        Another thing that was happening in some places was that some segments of the student body seemed to be getting lower priority. So the states started gathering data by demographic category so they could monitor whether someone was falling through the cracks.

        The states feel responsible for kids' learning and don't want them not to learn things that are important that their teachers may avoid teaching. And they want to know if some kids needs are not being met.

        As a teacher I disliked losing time to standardized tests. But we basically lost a couple of days of instruction in each subject, and I understood why the State wanted the data. It was used to flag whether what was going on at the school needed a closer look.
  • May 20 2013: Let me get a belated suggestion in before the thread expires. One of the teaching methods when I was in a 7th grade class
    is to give a drill test immediately at the beginning (or at the end ) of the next day class, on the very topic you taught in the previous class time. The essential idea is to encourage the students to learn the materials while it was still fresh in their minds. It would be a set of a few questions that takes between six to eight minutes for majority of the students to finish, but not necessarily for everybody to finish. The materials , of course, will be relevant to the standardized test subject. But to relieve the psychological pressure on the students, there won't be any records , at least to link the scores to the names of the students taking the drill tests. To save your time and effort in reading the answer sheets, it could be done by posting the answers to the class after the time limit and let the student sitting next to the test-taker to read and score the answers. This should serve every student the process of learning the topic, preparing and taking the drill test, and finding the correct answers right away, They could even ask questions about the logic behind the answers right there in class. However, you would have some idea in how much success the students will achieve when the formal standardized test is given.
    Personally I believe that one can usually retain the materials taught much better if the materials were immediately reviewed and reenforced. Also, the students are usually reluctant to ask questions, especially on the materials taught in previous classes. So, instead of a couple of trial tests mimicking the complete standardized test, this approach will more effectively train the students to understand the concept thoroughly under no pressure, and to retain them for a long time.
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    May 20 2013: This was a really good thread. I hate to see it die. Today i started to check out the "ending soon" threads and I found this one.

    It is a shame that the most thoughtful threads do not get the most comments. (Like the thread that was begun here.) Most of the threads that attract comments started with a simple premise of a single sentence and then they catch fire for whatever reason. That seems to be what happens here.
  • May 14 2013: I agree and propose we also abandon traditional schools (as we now know them) and create new ones. I see the "alternative" solution being a variety of schools to teach a variety of learners.

    School #1: for the students that thrive at a desk, learning from text, work sheets, lectures, and standardized testing, let them have the existing part of the school system that works.

    School#2 (and I know there are some out there): for the student that wants to learn LA/SS, science, math, music, visual and performing arts and other disciplines through an arts infused school. I am an art teacher and continually teach students how to measure, learn proportions, the science of light and mixing colors, think/speak/write about what they see in a piece of art, (musical score/play for the other arts) etc....

    School#3: an outdoor school set up to teach all the disciplines (including the arts of course) where a student can learn physics by climbing a tree and dropping something to measure/test gravity; build a sling shot to teach engineering, design and physics, as well as paint or draw outdoors (plein air), dig up the earth to discover what's below....

    School#4 and more...love to hear about them

    The lessons learned are endless in any of the above environments. However, I see these schools/environments as having to be physically separate/different schools with teachers that fit best with the environment. Logistically they could be housed in the same building, but need to have a distinction btw them.

    In most cases, if the teacher (or professional) is an expert in their subject matter, they could most likely teach at any one of the above schools. A teacher would probably be more inspiring if they selected the type of school they would like to teach at...and maybe move around these schools throughout their career. It would definitely keep me interested in learning more about what I am teaching.
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    R H 30+

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    May 6 2013: Possibly we just need to devalue the importance of 'grades'. Why were 'grades' invented? To assess a scale of progress and/or accomplishment in a student, usually in a very closed community of like people (ie the 'town', or the 'neighborhood' which were very segregated with no special ed or bilingual or kids from 'different' neighborhoods/cultures). Now, because of de-segregation and inclusion, all kids from all backgrounds and abilities are competing for the same 'grade', and teaching professionals are evaluated on their aggregate progress via student grades. But in my opinion, 'grades' in themselves are not an unreasonable assessment method - just as money is not in itself 'the root of all evil'. 'Grades' possibly could be reduced to just a component of student evaluation rather than student 'identity' as it has become. 'Grades' could be expanded to reflect not only curriculum accomplishment, but also character, social interaction, creativity application, and interest inventory (etc.) components as well, with an interview or a short letter of intent from the student as to why they feel they should be granted elective classes, say from jr high on. Or, how about if parents of failing students would pay higher taxes if they refused remedial assistance from educators.?
    • May 7 2013: I agree that grades sometimes become a sort of identity for students. It must be difficult when you see your identity as average or lower every time, even when you are trying your hardest. All students start the year off at different levels, why should they be expected to finish at equal levels?
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        May 7 2013: I believe that is one of the core problems with NCLB, isn't it? That all students (including new immigrants with language challenges and special ed (!)) are included in evaluation results, regardless of the school demographics or tax base. In an effort to make educators "more accountable", while parents and communities are not, educators are forced to 'teach to the test results'. I wonder how any other business or organization would do, how their employees would feel and act, if they were evaluated by their customer's being tested from the federal gov't? Maybe our municipal local gov'ts should be evaluated by test results given to citizens regarding their level of knowledge and satisfaction of city services, and have their funding threatened. Our police and judicial employees evaluated by criminal's rehabilitation results, or lose their jobs. Social services evaluated on the 'steady measurable improvement' of their customers, or lose their funding. Business employees evaluated on their customer's steady progression in skill and societal contribution to some arbitrary level, or pay higher taxes. Maybe we're on to something...
  • May 6 2013: Okay