Monday, August 19, 2013

Value-Added Questions

            During my thirty years as an educator, I’ve seen many initiatives and advances in our profession. Some of the best of these are in the area of instructional design and delivery. Much of it gets expressed through professional development. We know more about the teaching and learning cycle than at any other time in education. This gets validated every time I talk with my youngest child who has just completed her teacher education program. I know that some of my best lessons and strategies would not work today, as they were heavy on teacher actions and activities and light on student learning. I don’t think I was alone in that design process. I’m also not suggesting it was an attempt to ignore the needs of my students. I’ll go so far as to say I thought I was a pretty effective teacher and I followed what other good teachers were doing.

            The shift described above combined with our increased knowledge about teaching and learning also gets validated every time I work with teachers today. Facilitating their work and witnessing their growth exposes me to different kinds of conversations than the ones I recall. The questions run deeper, reflect more layers of knowledge, and speak to the desire of teachers to keep pushing the boundaries in trying to uncover what works best for their students. They are asking value-added questions as opposed to cursory-knowledge questions. A recent opportunity to work with the four schools in Fort Leavenworth USD 201 highlighted this for me. I shared some thoughts on common formative assessments and their questions went beyond the nuts and bolts of CFAs and instead reflected their understanding of the approach and struggles with how to refine their efforts. Questions like these prompted great insights: 

How often should common assessments be done?

Should common assessments be used only for teachers of identical content or are there ways that teachers of similar content can use assessments to improve instruction?

When looking at the results of common assessments, what is the main goal behind that data analysis? 

How can the special areas support the common assessments?

            Ultimately, our work as educators gets refined and improved as we collaborate and share our best ideas and notions about what works to positively impact the learning of our students. Best practice does not always equate with the practice we are best at. Taking the time to learn more, ask more, and try more allows us to go deeper with the work and ask the kinds of questions that lead to better insights.