Monday, May 17, 2010

"Behind The Scenes" Skills...

I was working on creating conference materials for this year’s Curriculum Mapping Institute in Saratoga Springs, New York in July. While I was working, I had several phone calls and answered a couple of emails from teachers and administrators asking my opinion about instructional practices and what did I think of this or that. Their questions were questions that I answer almost daily, but today they caused me stop and think about my own process. The questions put me in a metacognitive/aware space to be able to consider what it is I bring together in the form of skills to create a product of value—precisely the way we expect students to.

I was just designing a flier, but there were several considerations I had to make:

• What was my creative element going to be?
• How would I represent this, what programs would I use?
• How much time was I going to devote to it?
• How would I know I was finished?

What I realized pretty quickly, is that I was on automatic pilot, internally creating my own rubric and working at an analytical, evaluative, and creative level. The only limitation was my toolbox. I had to work within the confines of what I already know, or am willing to learn in this process for this specific purpose.

I wondered how often we consider these “Behind the Scenes” moments for kids. We may have an endpoint in mind, but do we really think about what requisite skills or toolboxes students will need to complete the tasks we challenge them with?

To come to my end product (my assessment, if you will…) I had to engage the following skills:

• Brainstorm ideas for the finished product and select an appropriate theme
• After choosing the “comic” theme (as it related to a framework for digital storytelling), brainstorm ideas for what I would need to include in flier
• Manipulate Microsoft Publisher software both visually and textually
• Create a comic using ToonDoo then copy and paste image into flier
• Create a Superhero with Marvel Comics Hero Maker and insert image into flier
• Develop appropriate text for insertion into flier
• Engage several Publisher tools including background color, frames, text manipulation, Word Art, etc.
• Rearrange elements once everything is on the page to make it “pop.”
• Additionally, support materials had to be created (which aren’t represented in the example below) but included two separate websites, one of which has been months in the making!

I knew most of the tools already, but still had to learn the Hero Maker and expand my knowledge of ToonDoo, both of which only took a few minutes, but still built skills in my toolbox that are available the next time I need them. (Which is exactly what I would like for kids to be doing!)

All of this boils down to me identifying what my “Behind The Scenes” moments were for creating this flier, and articulating that process here as an example of what we expect for students. We get into the habits of assigning tasks and assessments but rarely deconstruct them. When we take them apart and look at them with a more critical eye, we get to the root of what we want from children: LEARNING. How often do kids ask what they have to LEARN to move on, rather than asking what they have to DO to move on?

The learning is more important than the doing. Today, I had to ask myself to learn a couple of things and to engage other elements I already knew in the creation of a new product.

Here’s a sneak preview, with a couple of the elements removed, just so you can get an idea of my vision. (I can’t give away the whole farm yet!)

All of this to ask: Are the tasks and assessments in your classroom dependent on learning or as a culmination of skills both surface and “behind the scenes?” Or, are the tasks and assessments in your classroom more of a checklist of  "to do" items that may or may not represent what a kid knows and is able to do? Which one provides the truer picture of evidence of learning?

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