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🗣 The Dialogic Learning Weekly #212

🗣 The Dialogic Learning Weekly #212
Welcome - today, an exploration into how we assess learning growth inspired by my early experiences studying developmental psychology.

The Most Complicated Object in the Universe
Learning elements of developmental psychology was a catalyst to my career. I chose teaching because of formative experiences in 1995 when studying how we think, develop and learn.
The human brain has 100 billion neurons, each neuron connected to 10,000 other neurons. Sitting on your shoulders is the most complicated object in the known universe. (Michio Kaku)
It seemed an incredible mystery we were all attempting to unravel. I recall conducting the Draw-a-person test with children at a local primary school or nursery. Deciphering the mark-making and the developmental cues was fascinating.
The drawing test was devised in 1926 by Florence Goodenough, a psychologist from the University of Minnesota. It was developed as “a new approach to the measurement of intelligence of young children”, as her paper is titled.
Children are given ten minutes to draw a person, and the results are scored according to strict guidelines. Goodenough argued the drawings were proxies for intellectual development.
Teaching is at the intersection between an enduring mystery and a social imperative.
Our desire to understand a child’s developmental growth persists. We want to measure and understand so that we can teach with precision.
My interest in developmental psychology waned after years in the teaching profession. That is strange to write, as you might expect one to multiply the other. Perhaps the mystery was overwhelming, or the distractions incumbent to the teaching profession got in the way. Maybe it was the shiny gloss of technology?
Looking back on my teaching, I wish I had stayed curious for longer about the mysteries of how we learn.
Nowadays, I am motivated by the provocation and utility of first principles thinking. A mental model I would take back to 1998 and offer to myself.
We can all find clarity from the fundamental truths and principles of what we might be exploring.
  • What are the enduring truths about building positive relationships?
  • What are the first principles of a community?
And the central inquiry:
  • What are the fundamental truths about learning?
Fall 2017 | UConn Health Journal
Making Sense of What Works
The Draw-a-person test is an interesting exhibit in the story of how teaching is attempting to change. Although the test was widely used, it was critiqued and fell out of favour.
I put this down to the scale of the mystery and the solution shard effect. When part of the mystery supposedly unravels, a possible truth emerges - a solution shard. When this shard is refuted, it impacts the established fragments of truth (or part) around it.
The complexity of how we learn and what teaching should look like can be overwhelming. What we thought worked is no longer valid. Practices that were in favour and widely adopted now languish on the pseudo-science scrap heap.
How do I distinguish what works for my students? How can I possibly control so many different aspects of the learning experience? The experience with my students is contrary to the research I have read; what does that mean?
if we solve in silos, there is the potential of adding more fragments to decipher, more heuristics to navigate and more contradictory options of what works.
In a way, the confusion, uncertainty and part-truths are not surprising. Teaching is at the intersection between an enduring mystery and a social imperative.
A further aspect of Florence Goodenough’s work relevant to us today is the need for broader success measures. She asked children to draw as a way of expressing their intelligence and development. It wasn’t just a number.
Jonah Lehrer explains in his article about Goodenough’s test:
there are countless ways to measure human intelligence, whatever that is. We’ve settled on a particular concept of intelligence defined by a short list of measurable mental talents. (Modern IQ tests tend to focus on abilities such as mental control, processing speed and quantitative reasoning.) But Goodenough’s tool is proof that the mystery of smarts has no single solution. The IQ test could have been a drawing test.
The Draw-A-Person Test
What do we value in schools?
Even in the 1920s, Goodenough was attempting to develop better assessment methods for understanding young children’s growth and development. Although an enduring mystery, a century later, a growing number of educators, schools and systems are asking, “is there a better way to measure success?”
The challenge of figuring this out at a student and system level is significant. Again, if we solve in silos, there is the potential of adding more fragments to decipher, more heuristics to navigate and more contradictory options of what works.
Imagine for a moment the experience of new trainee teachers. Do we want that experience to be coherent and clear of the swirling mix of ideas? Or is better teaching practice forged from seeking a pathway through the mire?
We need leadership from research organisations, schools and education systems. An example of this is the New Metrics for Success project from Melbourne University.
a collaborative research venture between The University of Melbourne and selected forward-thinking schools to work in partnership to address the meta-problems faced by Australian schools today and in the future.
New Metrics for Success - Webinar
New Metrics for Success - Webinar
I wonder what peer projects, that link to this work from Melbourne University, exist worldwide?
We also need to empower teachers and students to engage in this great mystery. We don’t need to sit back and wait for someone else to direct our actions.
Your Talking Points
To establish your next step, let’s return to the question of “What are the fundamental truths about learning?”. Based on what we have explored in this article and to refine this further, here are some guiding questions and provocations:
  • What are the fundamental truths about learning that we know work here (in your context)?
  • For this student, what am I doing that is making the most significant difference to their learning growth?
  • What is one truth about learning that I don’t currently do frequently enough?
  • From the strategies I have tried, what are the patterns of impact and change?
  • How can I collaborate on “the truth for us”, the fundamental components of learning design?
Thanks for joining me this week. Please drop me a reply with what resonates or what you enjoyed from this issue.
See you again.
In dialogue, we trust.
~Tom Barrett
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Tom Barrett from Dialogic Learning

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