And speaking of testing, I learned about #Rhizo15 in my Twitter travels this morning. My very uptight and anxious nature is completely uncomfortable with the concept of Rhizomatic Learning, developed by Dave Cormier. It's one of these things that sounds intriguing to me but also makes me squirm with insecurity. Where's my roadmap?!
But there is only the sketchiest vision of a map. I can work with that, though.
Back in 2004, I took a road trip through the Andes with a few friends. We rented a pick-up truck in Quito, Ecuador and took off for Guayaquil. Have you ever driven through the Andes? Probably not, because it is not possible to drive through it. You have to drive around it. Around and around and around and around. Higher and higher and higher, then lower and lower and lower. You get the picture. Here in the US, we have the luxury of well-lit highways and road signs every few miles that reassure us that we're headed in the right directions. You can pull off the road if you need to pee and grab a bag of gummy worms. In the Andes, not so much. Those curvy roads are the width of a one-way street but are meant for two-way traffic. And there are no lights. And there are no road signs. The "map" we got was a picture of some lines that showed approximate locations of some major cities. Were there even any distances on it? I doubt it.
It got darker and darker as we wound our way around the mountain. Then, it got foggy. Driving through a cloud forest in the dark on a twisty road with no guardrails is not for the faint of heart. Also, we were fighting off feral dogs that kept trying to jump into the truck bed. (Not kidding.) So, what did we do?
Mike drove, and I leaned out the window shouting "right, left, right, left," so that we would not take a nosedive off the side of the mountain while Sue and the other Mike fended off the dogs. Then, a truck with bright headlights appeared behind. We quickly pulled to the side to let the truck pass and then followed that truck's lights all the way down the mountain, matching it's every turn until finally we coasted into a sleepy town on the outskirts of Guayaquil, in the earliest hours of a new day.
That was a nice anecdote, but where was I? Oh, testing. This week, Dave asks what kind of learning can't be measured? What should we be counting? The very nature of my job requires me to measure and track everything, as a writing interventionist. I count how many words students write in a given period of time, I count how many different types of sentences students construct in a piece of writing. I count how many words have been spelled incorrectly. I count how many pieces of punctuation have been missed. And I track it all, looking for upward improvement.
But is there anything valuable about writing intervention that can't be counted and charted? Maybe. How about the realization that adding an exclamation point completely changes the tone of a sentence? Or that a comma can alter the meaning of a sentence? How do I measure the intensity of the lightbulb that flickers on in those moments? I don't think I can, but I'm sure it counts!
Emily Purser asks:
Meanwhile, the powers that be at my institution are of the 'questionable' variety of view that a valid indicator of our 'performance' as educators would be to count the number of hits on our website.... if only they were kidding. Not only that, but it's a website we didn't design, and that doesn't represent my work in ANY way that I find meaningful or accurate! please. But what are they supposed to do? - they're being given silly spreadsheets from on high will boxes to fill with numbers. They could stop being so compliant, and shout "a pox on your box!"... but then maybe there is something sensible to measure, that we can supply instead?
Is the trouble with the tools, or the tradesmen?
I say, it's a combination of both. True, valid measurements of what students are learning requires time, money, and wherewithal. School administrators are typically short on all three. Packages and programs produced by publishing companies are alluring. It makes things neat, systematized, standardized, reproducible and easier to think of skills as widgets. I get it, I really do and I freely admit that having a program makes my life easier too. After all, I get twenty minutes a week or every other week with each student. Efficiency and effectiveness become important, even when I know that kids need time and space to delve into the messy work of writing. I strive for balance, and work around this by focusing on the micro elements of writing-- the sentence, the word, the puncutation.