Un-Quantification

Tipo and Chaca, Emperor's New Groove
Mom. . .you and I both know it is impossible for him to have grown in the last 5 minutes. . .isn't it. . .?

Chaca, Emperor's New Groove


Myths About Learning 3 suggested quantification in education isn't what it should be. And now, having spilled the beans that there are alternatives, we need to talk about where to go next.

The article gave some general direction in saying that we should look to the process that discipline masters follow in their work and to instill an ethic of self-evaluation through the learning process. Some noted characteristics that should be involved are confidence, self-understanding and self-dependence. But what do you do to build those? The answer is not standard marks on a worksheet.

The first thing is that letter or number grades and worksheets go together. Just as marks are mostly a shorthand representation for a level of quality reached, a lot of worksheets and most other paperwork, like doing calculations, is shorthand for real work-- more like simple skills that are practiced. By seeing a simple letter or number grade, the only thing the owner of the piece can really deduce is that the person who marked it either liked or disliked the attempt. If we are still set on measuring things and really want to get to self-evaluation, the learning activities done need to rise above fill-in-the-blanks to become complex and contextual. The Big6, which was introduced in Real, Accessible Learning, is a very good way to do that. Otherwise, consider a search on Self Directed Learning or Project Based Learning.

Once the work being done has some depth to evaluate, the method of evaluation can follow. The tool used to assess work now needs to convey deeper meaning. The learner needs to understand why and how work can be improved, and to get that, you need to know what the expectations for the work were in the first place. So they need to work together (this is all built into the Big6 process by the way. . .).

With a list of initial project expectations and depth in hand, we can compare the list of expectations to a final outcome to determine the level of success achieved in the work. Many systems of this sort rely on what is called a "rubric" to communicate information about quality. A rubric is like taking the list of project expectations and rating the final work based on each expectation. All of the ratings are averaged to give an overall score and the learner gets all of it together as feedback.

But isn't that quantification? Well, it does measure things in a sense, but it is not simple quantification. The important point is that it gives information about how the work could be improved and in what areas. The learner is not left guessing. The overall attitude is about learning, growing and improving rather than how a single instance of performance is perceived.

Actually, outside of people using assessed curriculum, home learners typically should not have many external reasons to use marks, so how many will take interest in them? (not many I hope, never thought to ask . . .). In some rubric use, the numbers are skipped and the rubric is just used in descriptive form. That would work if you are that far into the principle of anti-quantification.

Since we're still not really to self-evaluation yet, there is more. Unless the learner is the one who uses a rubric to assess her or his own work, it is not really self-evaluation anyway. Having a parent, teacher or whomever complete a rubric could be more like a training step to show how it is done, but the goal would be to have the learner do it in the future. This is not to say feedback from other people has no purpose, it can certainly help a learner in the reflection process, but is not the main focus.

To take thinking into the real self-evaluation range, you might give your child a chance to improve the work based on the evaluation. Or better yet, you might work together to do the same.

Including reflection on activities and evaluations is a way that learning can be pushed into self-evaluation territory, also. A lot of times, this looks like single written reflections about a project or its feedback. But having learners keep an on-going work journal with regular entries would really take it that direction.

But ultimately, no matter how many and what types of techniques we may use, the very best way for learners to really be involved in self-evaluation, is for them to be working with something they are interested in. If it is something they care enough to want to improve, they will be happy to spend the time. Otherwise, most evaluation efforts carry the chance that they will be faced as going through the motions.


See also, Un-Quantification 2

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