IntelAssessing Projects : Successful Assessment
Learner-Centred Classroom Culture


Focus on Learning
Teachers who are successful in conventional classrooms where they are at the centre of teaching often find it difficult to relinquish control to more learner-centred activities that are less predictable and organized. “Why should I change when everything is going well?” they wonder. Like learners who resist activities without clear-cut right answers, teachers occasionally have difficulty coping with the complexity of a classroom where learners take control of their own learning.

In order for learners to learn 21st Century skills, however, such as higher-order thinking, teamwork, and problem solving, they must be engaged in complex projects that resemble real-life work in different disciplines. They also must receive continual information about their learning progress. Research clearly shows the positive effect that this kind of assessment has on learner learning (Black, et al., 1998).

Although there is good reason to believe that learner-centred activities and formative assessment have the power to motivate learners to become engaged in their own learning, the path to self-direction is often not an easy one. “Learners who have grown used to being tacit observers or "sleepy onlookers" may well resent having to work harder, especially when such passive learning roles are the norm in other subjects / learning areas.” One teacher in Black’s project was accused of not doing her job correctly because she did not give notes which learners could memorize for tests.

Teachers may also find giving up conventional practices difficult. Formative assessment de-emphasizes grades and emphasizes learning. Learners are asked to set goals and monitor their own progress. They are encouraged to be creative, to take risks, and to ask questions. In short, they are expected to care about their own learning.  For some learners and teachers this is a huge leap.

Conventional classrooms that focus on extrinsic rewards provide few opportunities for learners to think about themselves as learners, rather than just as learners.

When the classroom culture focuses on rewards, gold stars, grades, or class ranking, then pupils look for ways to obtain the best marks rather than to improve their learning. One reported consequence is that, when they have any choice, pupils avoid difficult tasks. They also spend time and energy looking for clues to the "right answer." Indeed, many become reluctant to ask questions out of a fear of failure (Guskey, 2005).

Marks are not going to disappear from most classrooms, but teachers can work to minimize their importance, focusing on the intrinsic value of learning from a task and self-assessment, rather than on accomplishing easily countable and verifiable tasks.

If learners are to take control of their own learning, they need teaching, learning and support in specific skills such as collaboration, problem solving, and critical thinking. Like the teachers in Black’s study, teachers who use formative assessment effectively need to expand the way they think about learning. Teaching must become less about delivering subject-area knowledge and more about engineering teaching and learning around authentic tasks that allow learners to practice working with new content in ways that challenge their thinking and help them develop 21st Century skills of self-direction and collaboration.


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