Monday, November 14, 2011

Revision of Model Curriculum Units, Curriculum Embedded Performance Assessments

[This is the second post on Massachusetts Race to the Top Revision of Model Curriculum Units by a collection of 200 teachers on October 25th and 26th]

Taking a test at the Real Estate Investing CollegeAfter receiving a wonderful introduction to "genre-based pedagogy" from Meg Gebhard (see previous post), teachers transitioned into a second workshop on Curriculum Embedded Performance Assessments* (CEPAs from here on out). This is an exciting shift or broadening of the concept of student assessment in the state of Massachusetts and is an attempt to grapple with the following charge of Barak Obama:
“I am calling on our nation’s Governors and state education chiefs to develop standards and assessments that don’t simply measure whether students can fill in a bubble on a test, but whether they possess 21st century skills like problem-solving and critical thinking, entrepreneurship and creativity.” -President Barack Obama, March 10, 2009
What will this actually look like at this scale? How will governors and state education chiefs develop an accountability system that incorporates performance assessments that happen within the curriculum throughout the school year?  Where to start?  Massachusetts is starting with teachers.  In the U.S. the "beyond-the-bubble-sheet-assessment" has been done locally day-in and day-out by teachers, and to many teachers their day-to-day assessment of learning is far richer than a single two hour session that assesses students primarily via bubble sheet responses.

Each of the model curriculum units created by committees of teachers representing each discipline will incorporate a CEPA.  CEPAs are tasks or series of tasks integrated with curricula that require students to use their knowledge and skills to effectively create products or performances that demonstrate their understanding and ability.  These tasks will take place during and after relevant instruction, can include multiple tasks, and may take up to several days or even weeks to complete. The following is a further list† of possible design principles at play that focus on the "assessment" function of CEPAs:

  • –  Should include both formative and summative components
  • –  Should directly relate to classroom instruction so that it will lead to a greater understanding of the covered topic(s)
  • –  Will be subject-specific, but should incorporate other subject areas when appropriate
  • –  Should result in multiple, individually-produced, scorable products (there will be group work as well, but this would be scored locally)
    –  Should include assessment of communication skills and research 

Clearly this change will not assuage some engaged in the reform debate around assessment, but it definitely marks an inclusion of student performance that can be welcomed by many.  These assessments may be based on multiple products done individually and in groups that may include videos, business proposals, presentations, portfolios and the list of other products go on and on.  Much of the design framework used to develop these performance assessments are grounded in the training provided by Jay McTighe around his GRASPS format from Understanding by Design as well as the ongoing work in cohorts of Massachusetts' schools by Building Quality Performance Assessments Initiative.

The development of CEPAs within the model curriculum units are works in progress from their final look and feel, scope, pilots, implementation, local and statewide scoring, etc.  Despite the considerable list of items that remain to be figured out, it is a fascinating and new adventure that has been spawned by the common core standards and the funding provided by Race to the Top.  I am hopeful that this will lead to students demonstrating their learning both through the bubble sheet and a diversity of performances that occur within their classroom.  I am hopeful that the inclusion of teachers in the design, piloting, and implementation of model curriculum units will lead to a strong foundation for the future of this new endeavor in Massachusetts.

*Through a Looking Glass: Lessons Learned and Future Directions for Performance Assessment
Balanced, Multilevel ScienceAssessment Systems:A Massachusetts Perspective

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Revision of Model Curriculum Units, introductory talk by Meg Gebhard

(pictures from here)

October 25th and 26th educators, instructional leaders, and Department of Education staff met to continue the work on developing Model Curriculum Units through Race to the Top grant awarded the state of Massachusetts  The majority of the time was spent in small groups with fellow teachers and Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) support personnel responding to a first round of revisions and finalizing a model unit.  I hope to get to that topic next post, but I wanted to do a preliminary post on the opening talk of the two days.

Participants received a compelling workshop on the role of "academic language" in the construction of knowledge and how to design curriculum that supports it development.  It was delivered by Meg Gebhard from UMass Amherst who opened with a wonderful task that got us thinking about her area of expertise, genre based pedagogy.  Here is the task:

Scenario:  Two weeks ago, I accidently ate some trail mix that had nuts in it while hiking up Mount Monadnock. I ended up in the back of an ambulance going 80 miles an hour with the sirens blaring in the middle of New Hampshire.  
Your Task:  At your table, in groups of four, take 3 minutes to begin writing (each person selects one of the following as the prompt):
  • A recount from the perspective of my 15 year-old daughter who gave me the trail mix and said it was nut free.  Pretend she posted this text to Facebook.
  • A narrative from my perspective that I might send to a magazine such as Outdoor.
  • The report the paramedic gave to the doctor at the emergency room
  • A scientific explanation of allergic reaction you might find in a biology textbook.
Share:  In your group, share your drafts.
  • Record how your texts are organized differently
  • Record how the vocabulary choices and sentence structures are different
  • Record your thoughts on the different relationship established between reader and writer in each text
  • Record the linguistic and cultural resources you drew on to get started with this task
  • Record what was hard or impossible about this task (besides time limitations)
She created an experience that situated academic language by focusing on how it uses language to convey meaning compared to other genres.  She transitioned from our writing to the demands of reading different genres and the various entry points each type of genre provides readers.  It gave this math teacher a great deal to think about as I entered into the process of revising curriculum.  What genres are being employed here? How do genres work in math?  How can students can access on the language in the directions, in a word problem, or in a textbook?  How does  my curriculum engage these genres so they are tooled to interact with them effectively both in collaboration with their peers and independently?

It was a great beginning to the two days!  Next post I will talk more in depth about the revision and finalization process.

She provided several resources on the topic that I will pass on to you:
Exploring How Texts Work, by Beverly Derewianka
Genre, Text, Grammar: Technologies for Teaching and Assessing Writing
The Language of Schooling, by Mary Schleppegrell