Extreme Learning – another step?


Apologies if this post seems a bit disconnected – I’ll try to tidy it up later.

On Thursday we’re holding the last of our Newly Qualified Teacher (NQT) support programme.

This will be a follow up to the session I led in October.

My plan is to focus upon Extreme Learning by splitting up the group into teams of 5/6.  Each team will be asked to complete an Extreme Learning project in 75 minutes.  One of the team will act as an observer – taking the role of “metacognition” by taking notes on the process , the problems they encounter and how they solved them.

Following completion we are going to try something which might be an assessment method with some potential.

I would contend that all summative assessment is “norm referenced” in that even “criterion referenced” assessment takes account of  the standards of the larger group – i.e. if the overall standards of the large group improve the criteria used to describe high standards performance will change – e.g. if 90% of pupils started to gain an ‘A’ in Higher English the criteria for an ‘A’ pass would change.

In other words we rely on comparison to understand and measure our performance – we do it all the time in our day-to-day lives without recourse to criteria descriptors.

Our idea is that the way to judge Extreme Learning success is to reflect upon other projects.  David Gilmour came up with an interesting example – he was in an adult art class where the teacher would regularly tell the class to take a break and go round the class and look at other people’s work. In this way people began to see standards and reflect upon how they can improve their own work.

The problem with most forms of assessment is that it’s private – how do I ever see what gets an ‘A” unless the teacher copies a paper – but that’s just one version of success – perhaps there other ways to perform at a high level.

I was looking today at the very interesting assessment maps provided by the Victorian Essential Learning Standards which have influenced the levels of performance in A Curriculum for Excellence – but boy are they dull!!!

The question which I was left with was is there any alternative? – particularly for our Extreme Learning Projects which will depend upon formative assessment – but still need some means of establishing standards for learners to aspire and judge their progress and next steps.

The beauty of on-line projects is that they are public – it’s this open access to other learners’ work that gives us an opportunity to explore a different methodology.

So what is we could identify different projects with various levels of performance which is self-assessed but externally validated by other learners and teachers.

Let’s imagine I’m a learner who wants to do a project on Formula One cars and I explore this through the research question – “Why is one F1 racing car faster than another?”  I complete my on-line project with reference to maths, technology, design and history. When it comes to assessing my project I start to look for other projects which have also covered these areas – although perhaps not all in the same project.  In this way I can begin to see levels of performance which are lower than mine, the same and perhaps higher.

Using these other projects as benchmarks I make some judgement about my own work then seek external vaildation for my judgment -with a strong focus upon my next steps.

It’s at this point that I will refer back to something that Bob Lingard said on Saturday – when he mentioned that all too often teachers don’t provide anough challenge or extend learners enough – he mentioned how outstanding teachers provide, what Vygotsky called the  Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). But what if learners had access to others’ work – in much the same way as they havce acces to their friends Bebo or MySpace sites – which influences their own sites – would this provide that same ZPD??

Last point – Lindsay Paterson wrote in last week’s TESS about the need to remember the value of discplinary work – I have to agree – but Extreme learning will give learners the chance to deepen their knowledge and understanding of disciplines in addition to being multi-disciplinary. Why don’t we set the four capacities as one side of the learning circle – with a focus on the process, whilst intellectual challenge forms the other side?

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