I prefer the term “geek” but in this case I am a nerd. At least I’m in good company. Thanks to my pal and colleague Heather, I got to go to the lovely town of Glencoe this past Friday and see assessment guru Damian Cooper.
Damian Cooper is so passionate about the topic of Assessment for Learning that he literally bounces around the room while he’s talking. I for one particularly appreciate the fact that he comes from a secondary English background and that he’s not so far removed from the classroom that he doesn’t understand the all of the “in the trenches” realities that teachers deal with on a daily basis. He also doesn’t shy away from difficult questions. I found myself hanging on his every word.
He identified what is for me one of the biggest struggles with the assessment in Ontario: the ministry says it supports the idea of assessment for learning, but its policies and procedures don’t provide the support teachers need to implement these ideas. If we really believe that work habits such as punctuality, attendance, etc. are important, then they need to have some weight behind them. Learning skills need to show up on transcripts–otherwise they have no teeth. If a student can’t be given an academic penalty for not submitting an assignment or not submitting it on time, then there needs to be an appropriate behavioural consequence–again, something with teeth.
The part that I’m still not entirely clear on is this issue of deadlines. I understand that some students need more time than others to complete assignments. But I also understand that if I’m told I can hand something in between October 1st and October 15th, I’m going to wait until October 15th, even though I’m intrisically motivated and understand the importance of receiving teacher feedback in order to improve. I’m okay with not deducting marks for late work, but I still think there needs to be a real perceived penalty in place for not meeting a deadline, and I think that as long as students are required to complete a credit within a specific time frame and as long as teachers are required to submit “marks” at regular intervals, we need to keep deadlines. I also think teachers need the flexibility to extend deadlines or provide individual extensions depending on the circumstances of the student. I hope Mr. Cooper wouldn’t disagree with that. I’m very tempted to email him and ask.
I would also like to ask him some more specific questions about designing down and the Ontario curriculum for secondary English. Specifically, I’d like to know what he considers the Big Ideas to be for specific courses. As I’ve probably said before, it seems much easier to come up with a Big Idea for a subject like history than it does for English.
And yes, I did get him to sign my book, but so did Heather. So there.