Teaching and Assessing What Matters in Schools
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
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.
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.
Click here to sign up to receive an alert by e-mail each time I add a blog post.
Click here to read my other blog posts.
You may follow me on Twitter: @CrossroadsHead.