Teaching and assessment, which comes first? To some, that may seem like a chicken and egg question, to others it may seem quite obvious and straightforward but let me explain why I am led to ask it.
The other day, I was very privileged to observe a group of teachers team planning. This is something not every teacher gets the opportunity to do, certainly, when I was a teacher I never got the opportunity to team plan; all my planning had to be done by myself alone. Even today, most teachers don’t plan in teams or get the opportunity to give it a go. Which is a great shame as it really can be an effective process.
While observing, what became evident to me, and this will surprise nobody, is that different teachers plan in different ways or have different approaches. In most cases, this can be a huge advantage because it means the planning process can tap into different people’s skills, knowledge and experiences. Sometimes, though, it can be a drawback if you have someone who plans in a particular way that doesn’t fit with the others in the team. One thing I observed is that most of the team planning involved some form of ‘brainstorming’ leading to the production of a mindmap or topic-web. This type of approach might not fit with someone who likes their planning done in orderly columns, rows and boxes. I know the compromise solution might be to take the mindmap and then rewrite it into a Word document or a spreadsheet but doesn’t that seem like doing the same planning twice?
Generally the planning sessions appeared to be going well but there were a couple of occassions where things went slightly awry based, it appeared to me, upon a person’s different approach to planning. In one instance, the team planning seemed to be going very well and were discussing the use of technology, particularly blogs, podcasts, video and their learning platform. This seemed to be too much for one person who suddenly interjected that they couldn’t see how this would fit into the assessment, they were particularly concerned about the use or creation of digital resources because these couldn’t be assessed or ‘fit into the boxes on the assessment sheet’ (almost their exact words).
As an outside observer, I couldn’t become involved in this discussion but I was quite shocked by this person’s statement and their approach. It seemed to me that this person wanted to plan and to teach toward the assessment criteria. Has this replaced ‘teaching to the exam’ or ‘teaching to SATs’ something we know happens but, which we also know, shouldn’t happen? The belief that we shouldn’t use digital resources or ask the learner to create digital material because it didn’t fit with the assessment, just seemed to be so wrong.
Should we be taking the assessment, in this way, and letting it determine what we teach and the way in which we teach? It does seem like a backwards way of teaching to me.
… I think there may be a case for putting the assessment first. I am thinking, though, of assessment of the learners previous learning; the assessment of the learning that has taken place prior to the lesson(s) we are now planning. Surely it is important to consider this first as it will help us determine where the learners are, what they already know or have experienced and the ways in which they learn?
So I guess the answer to my original question; teaching and assessment, which comes first, is not so easy to answer.