Wad-Ja-Learn? Assessing Deeper Learning

In the current school accountability climate, we all want to know how well our students are doing. “Wad-ja Get?” That’s the question from parents, teachers, board members and the students. In these times, the question can be translated to means “what the standardized test scores are?” and “what are your grades?”.  However, by just looking at numbers, we are getting only a flat snapshot that tell us little about what students have learned.

Beyond test scores and report card grades, the better question to ask maybe “Wad-ja-Learn?”. In this way, we can inquire not only about what students actually understood, but also about what they learned about thinking critically, collaborating, communicating with new digital skills and creatively solving real world problems.  If we improve how students learn by teaching them “how-to-learn” and if they can demonstrate they are more effective deeper learners by focusing on proof of their advanced competencies, we not only drive them to think critically about what they are learning, we can measure the results. When we assess the competencies that enable students to understand, we have strong evidence that they have advanced their skills and can hold them ready for further transfer.

Wad-ja-Learn that I Can See and Assess?

Let’s examine two examples taken from completed project-based learning units. By adding “deeper” to describe these units means the teachers intentionally designed the units to spotlight deeper learning outcomes and show what their students learned.

Four high school juniors embarked on a journey to build a case for making it easier for local senior citizens to get to their medical appointments. “What did they get?” A’s and B’s. What did they learn?They learned how to research a problem in their own community and then learned how to share a planned solution with the town council. Here is how the multi-disciplinary content examined.

  • Literacy: After researching informational text online, the team interviewed senior citizens, town officials, and others to identify the town’s problems related to senior citizens’ transportation.  They summarized findings in an essay which was also included in a presentation to the town committee.
  • Mathematics:  The team charted, analyzed statistics and reported data from the interviews.
  • Science: The team’s driving question was to determine how an ecosystem can impact human health.  Part of their research asked them to understand health ecosystems, especially as related to seniors.
  • Social Sciences/Civics: Working with local officials, the team addressed a social issue in their community and looked for a public solution that would enhance the lives of senior citizens. Their presentation highlighted the findings.
  • Art: For their public presentation, the team created a tri-fold display of the charts.
  • Technology: The team conducted research on-line, wrote and shared its essay via Google Docs. Students created an of online team portfolio to collect their google docs (Excel, PowerPoint, Word, etc.) and development charts for the tri-fold display.

The high schooler’s multidisciplinary transportation challenge was driven by rubrics connecting deeper learning competencies to the deeper learning outcomes.

  • Critical Thinking: Team members  learned to identify a real world problem important to them, researched, analyzed data, hypothesized, made inferences, and drew conclusions. Each student assessed one thinking skill such as drawing conclusions in a personalized learning plan.  
  • Collaboration: The students made all decisions together. The assessment rubric focused on conflict resolution.
  • Creative Problem Solving: The team searched for more productive alternative to senior transport in their community. The teacher assessed how they used design thinking strategies to reach their decisions.
  • Communication: The team learned how to present the solution to the town committee using clear and precise language. A rubric assessed the skills needed for the presentation.
  • Cultural Respect: This project fostered a positive relationship among students, the elderly community, and the local government. The students’ solution was  derived from the seniors’ stated needs.
  • Transfer: The teacher promoted student transfer by noting instances and then discussing during the project’s reflection.
  • Student Agency: The students were empowered to make their own decisions throughout the project in their team. Examples include  their identification of the community problem, jigsawed research, agreement on the analysis results,their presentation plan and self assessment of  their critical thinking.

The Importance of Deeper Learning Outcomes

Students’ learned more by solving a real world problem, researching their town’s senior transport options and making a product of their design to present to a real world audience, the city council, then taking a test or writing a paper to get a letter grade. By going beyond “know” to “do”, her students had much more to remember than they could deliver in  a single essay or test about the math, literacy, art, science or other content. They not only could speak and show what they had learned but they could also explain the essential learning outcomes they had applied and transferred them to new areas of learning.

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