We’re feeling very good about what we have been able to show in Chapter 9 of our series, “A Year At Mission Hill.” But really seeing the learning, (the title of Chapter 9) takes time. Anyone making a reasonable length film about learning of necessity must jump from introducing a subject to showing some sort of progress, eliminating most of the hundreds of steps in between. Be it in my class in California when we filmed August to June, or the many classes we followed at Mission Hill School in Boston, no matter how hard we were trying, most learning is too subtle to capture with a camera, and the real-time process would be deadly boring to watch on screen in any case. Here is one of those places where film cannot do justice to Life. A teacher who is given the opportunity to interact deeply with his or her students catches and relishes the opportunity to observe and respond to many more of those steps.
With all the baggage attached to “assessment” I only retook usership of the word “assess” when Dan Schwartz (Baker Demonstration School Head of School) pointed out to me that it refers to “sitting next to.” Sitting, standing, listening, reading…every day a thousand pieces of information guides a teacher’s understanding of what his/her students have learned and might need to learn next. And what if the most important thing a particular student needs to learn next has nothing to do with the prescribed next step in a pacing guide?
It would also have been tedious to show more than a few seconds of me, or a Mission Hill teacher pouring over a student’s production over time. I know, because we chopped out that footage in both films when we started yawning! But that careful regard is what differentiates a multiple-choice test from a well-balanced assessment.
I never developed anything like the kind of portfolio process that Mission Hill has created. If I were back in the classroom today there are many pieces they built that I would want to try. But over the years I became more and more attached to having students give me their assessment of themselves as learners, often with their work spread out around us. It gave me the chance to confirm strengths that we both saw, and to honestly discuss how to address weaknesses.
So we get to the goal of assessment. I will gladly put that word back in my working vocabulary if its goal is to help an individual student grow. It will be in my lexicon if it refers to making me a more well informed teacher. It will not pass my lips if its goal is to punish, to compare apples and oranges, to increase real estate values, to sell textbooks, or to win the next election.