Teaching and Assessing What Matters in Schools

Submitted 2 months ago
Created by
Brad Choyt

Nearly every school exists to impart some combination of knowledge and skills to their students. Some schools focus to a heavier degree on the knowledge side of the equation, which may include facts from history, vocabulary, scientific theories, multiplication tables, and literature-based knowledge. Other schools may emphasize skills to a greater extent. This may include handwriting and keyboarding, experimental techniques in a lab, playing an instrument, and learning how to draw. Both sets of knowledge are important, and often they reinforce each other. For example, it’s essential to have both a fundamental understanding of scientific principles and good lab techniques to excel in a biology classroom.  

But regardless of where a curriculum may be in the continuum between knowledge and skill-based learning, every school also has to consider the effectiveness of its program on conceptual comprehension—the learning that helps students make sense of their world. This understanding along with students’ ability to apply their learning to new situations will influence everything from how they can communicate effectively to the way they solve problems independently or within a group—in short, the combination of knowledge and skills that will be essential in their future careers.  

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For schools to know if they are accomplishing this goal, teachers first need to assess both knowledge and skills through tests, papers, labs, performances, and other ways to make student knowledge and skills visible. But developing assessment for conceptual understanding is more difficult. For teachers to gain an understanding of their students’ progress in this area, they need to structure assessments that require students to apply their learning to new situations, including explaining their reasoning and justifying their conclusions. While this is a much more difficult type of assessment, ultimately it gets to the essence of why schools exist, regardless of the emphasis placed on one kind of learning versus another. 

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