Friday, November 10, 2006

Assessment is for Learning - Revisited

Regular readers may recall a considered piece/rant from a wee while back, wherein I vented some spleen at the whole new thrust in Scottish education currently striding forth under the banner "Assessment is for Learning" (hey, I'm a maths teacher, so I can mix metaphors all I want).


Since then I've been in-serviced with current thinking in AIFL (I'd argue for AifL, but what do I know) - quite a good in-service, actually. And, secure in the knowledge that HMI have a gun to our heads on this matter, you can bet your life that the learning outcomes for my lessons are now regularly being shared. As in, I write them up on the board.

Hoorah! my class cry as they realise the overall quality of their education has just improved all but immeasurably.

Now in fact, I'm quite happy to admit that this AIFL stuff may well be more or less A Good Thing (though I reckon a little may also go a long way). I do wonder, mind you, quite how the pupils are going to take it all in once they encounter the same approach in all their classes, but who knows, maybe it's just what they want.


Two points:

  • I read a fascinating blog here recently, which looked at the notion of Accepted Solution Time in mathematics: the idea being that AST is the amount of time (and effort) a student is willing to invest in a problem before either getting the solution or giving up. The problem is, as the blogger points out, that AST seems to be decreasing, even for students supposedly "able" in mathematics. Well, if all this AIFL stuff is going to be breaking down the content of the subject into ever smaller pieces, isn't there a real danger that this is precisely the sort of approach which all but guarantees that students will become greatly distressed if ever they are asked to do something a little out of the ordinary or off-beam? "What's the learning outcome here?" I can hear them complaining already.
  • This leads neatly into my second point, which is basically that behind all this I think lies a philosophy that wants to reduce education to training; that believes that something as massive and amorphous as mathematics - even at school level - can be reduced to a checklist of "be able to". Oh jings, it's that Thatcher woman again isn't it?

Let me put it another way:

There are more things in mathematics than can ever be dreamt of in your learning outcomes.

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