Bite-Sized Assessments

Continuing the theme of the recent blog post,  “Chewing at the Common Core,” I share with you here another article that connects the work of school librarians to the implementation of the Common Core State Standards, though not directly.  (In fact, it’s up to the librarians to make the connections.)  In an online Forbes piece, “Could Competency-Based Learning Save the Common Core,” author and co-founder of Innosight Institute Michael Horn explains that in tasks from assembly line auto-making to K-12 content, the success of efforts to teach, support skills practice, and assess outcomes depends upon effective facilitation of students’ (or workers’) mastery of dependent, related skills.

“Bite-sized,” formative assessments make efficient use of school time (more so than drawn-out series of test days) and build competence incrementally, notes Horn, suggesting that “perhaps there could be short assessments to verify basic objective mastery around a particular concept followed by rich capstone-like projects that could measure several competencies and be reviewed on an on-demand basis by an outside party . . .” with the reference to potential external review as part of the forthcoming Common Core assessments.

The details of the CCSS assessment system remain to be seen for the moment, but as we speak, librarians and teachers are already collaborating to integrate content area objectives and 21st century skills in ways that break down the skills and ideas of essential questions into manageable, meaningful, and yes, bite-sized, pieces that are taught and assessed by the teachers and self-assessed by the students.

I often talk to my school library graduate students about how every lesson plan they develop doesn’t have to be a Big Huge Research Project that ends in a Paper, and that inquiry can be explored through units comprised of smaller, but still important, lessons with carefully-planned tasks that lead to evidence of learning, assessed through well-selected, formative assessment tools.

In the December 2012 School Library Monthly article, “Designing Learning Experiences for Deeper Understanding,” Barbara K. Stripling and Violet H. Harada propose “C.L.E.A.R. G.O.A.L.S.” as a structure for planning and teaching library learning experiences, from the backwards-designed units to individual lessons. From the article (on p. 6-9), these acronyms stand for the following components of teaching and learning:

C.L.E.A.R. = Content Learning Goals, Learners, Essential Questions, Assessment Product, Resources

G.O.A.L.S. = Guiding Framework of Inquiry, Outcomes (Skills) to Be Taught, ASsessment of Skill, Learning Experiences Overview, Scaffolding to Provide

I encourage you to read the full article for examples and further discussion of “CLEAR GOALS” – but for now, returning to Horn, he cites the lack of feedback, limited opportunity for growth, and time potentially wasted in the process of taking tests as reasons to turn to a more competency-driven system, which would create scenarios whereby,

“the learning objectives and assessments would be far more transparent to students and their parents, and they would understand why they had not passed a certain concept, as they could receive immediate feedback to inform what they would learn next—and understand the importance of true mastery.”

Back to the library context now, when learning experiences are designed with “CLEAR GOALS” to provide clear evidence that students attained the objectives and offer feedback and self-assessment opportunities along the way, the accountable, rigorous, and bottom-up approach that Horn advocates is taking shape – right in many school library programs and classrooms today.

Another point in Horn’s article aligns with the instructional design and assessment strategies in Stripling and Harada’s December SLM article: he expresses deep concern about the age-based, grade-level bands in the CCSS and asserts that this stringent, antiquated set of expectations doesn’t make sense for today’s learners.  He explains that innovative, more personalized assessments are needed;  Stripling and Harada write about how scaffolding instruction for interest and ability allows students to create varied products to demonstrate their learning, hone in on the most important skills required for a particular focus (perhaps shifting attention to different aspects of layered tasks another time), and read and interact with texts in ways that address their visual and reading needs.

Indeed, I think that yes, competency-based learning – and of course, librarians-at-the-ready – can save the Common Core.

–Rebecca Morris

Works Cited:

Horn, Michael. “Could Competency-Based Learning Save the Common Core?” Forbes. Accessed December 10, 2012.

Stripling, Barbara K. and Violet H. Harada. “Designing Learning Experiences for Deeper Understanding.” School Library Monthly 29, no. 3 (December 2012): 5-12.

Image: Bite Size, by bigcityal, on Flickr.  Used with a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License.

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