“Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”
Sign hanging in the office of Albert Einstein at Princeton University
I wonder if I am the only person who ever has days like this? As I sat today observing my good colleagues Mary and Jayashree working with students I was in awe of their knowledge and enthusiasm. Furthermore I was stunned by the quality of information and the depth of perception coming from our students. Why, I asked myself, does it seem that everyone in this room is far cleverer than me?
Today’s topic was assessment in inclusive classrooms, an area guaranteed to provoke strong feelings and one which we hoped our course participants would debate with vigour. We were not disappointed. Indeed their thoughtful critical responses indicated the many frustrations and challenges that they experience with regards to assessment in their professional lives.
Semantics are important and this is apparent whenever issues of the assessment of learners are discussed. Assessment for learning, or assessment of learning? Assessment of the pupil or assessment by the pupil? So many complexities to explore and no wonder that this is a subject that gets teachers so animated. Writers such as Dylan Wiliam and my colleague Knut Roar Engh have emphasised the holistic nature of effective assessment and have encouraged teachers to see this as an embedded part of the teaching process rather than an addendum to the main activity. Yet it would appear that many schools still place an emphasis upon assessment as a summative process with little regard for how it may shape teaching and celebrate the accomplishments of pupils.
Inclusion is essentially a democratic process that recognises the rights of individuals and marginalised groups and celebrates diversity. For assessment to support this process it too must adopt democratic principles. Where it becomes an activity solely undertaken by teachers and school managers and remains focused upon narrow academic outcomes it acts as a barrier to the inclusion agenda. For this reason Mary and Jayashree in their sessions today emphasised the need to place the pupils’ interpretation of their own learning at the centre of the assessment process and conveyed the message that we start from the strengths of the learner. Working in inclusive teams was emphasised and respect for families reinforced with consideration given to how assessment information is conveyed with empathy.
Within very little time our students, many of whom work in schools with a “traditional” view of assessment were voicing their opinions and demonstrating their innovative ideas for how assessment might inform the development of inclusive teaching and learning. The means by which assessment might provide us within insights into the impact of the teaching environment and a shift of focus to provide a consideration of the assessment of teaching styles, were just two of the ideas keenly contested today. Arguments were plentiful and the debate fierce, but all in good humour and deftly refereed by tutors!
The ideas emerging from the discussions and workshop activities of students today were highly original and creative. Now I think I understand, the reason everyone in this room seems cleverer than me, it’s simple really – they are!
Ah well, in the words of Samuel Beckett “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better”. – (Samuel Beckett – Worstword Ho 1984)