Moving towards authentic learning….slowly.

In 1982 Alberta introduced the Achievement Testing Program for grades 3, 6, and 9, and in 1984 reinstated the Diploma Examinations Program at grade 12 as one requirement for high school graduation.

For 30 plus years, the province of Alberta has been running Provincial Achievement Test and Diploma Examinations. What have we created in the province? Teachers that teach to the test, students not excited about gearing up for these exams, and a public that may or may not believe that these tests actually improve their child’s learning.

The purpose of the Achievement Testing Program is to• determine if students are learning what they are expected to learn• report to Albertans how well students have achieved provincial standards at given points in their schooling

• assist schools, authorities, and the province in monitoring and improving student learning

Source: General Information Bulletin 2012-2013, Alberta Government

The Grade 12 Diploma Examinations Program, established in 1984, has three main purposes: • to certify the level of individual student achievement in selected Grade 12 courses• to ensure that province-wide standards of achievement are maintained

• to report individual and group results

Source: General Information Bulletin 2012-2013, Alberta Government

In schools, we are pushing for authentic learning experiences. Authentic learning typically focuses on real-world, complex problems and their solutions, using role-playing exercises, problem-based activities, case studies, and participation in  communities of practice. The learning environments are moving to a multidisciplinary approach.

Learning researchers (Reeves, T. C., Herrington, J., & Oliver, R. ,2002) created a paper-  Authentic activities and online learning.  They have distilled the essence of the authentic learning experience down to 10 design elements, providing educators with a useful checklist that can be adapted to any subject matter domain.

1. Real-world relevance: Authentic activities match the real-world tasks of professionals in practice as nearly as possible. Learning rises to the level of authenticity when it asks students to work actively with abstract concepts, facts, and formulae inside a realistic—and highly social—context mimicking “the ordinary practices of the [disciplinary] culture.”

2. Ill-defined problem: Challenges cannot be solved easily by the application of an existing algorithm; instead, authentic activities are relatively undefined and open to multiple interpretations, requiring students to identify for themselves the tasks and subtasks needed to complete the major task.

3. Sustained investigation: Problems cannot be solved in a matter of minutes or even hours. Instead, authentic activities comprise complex tasks to be investigated by students over a sustained period of time, requiring significant investment of time and intellectual resources.

4. Multiple sources and perspectives: Learners are not given a list of resources. Authentic activities provide the opportunity for students to examine the task from a variety of theoretical and practical perspectives, using a variety of resources, and requires students to distinguish relevant from irrelevant information in the process.

5. Collaboration: Success is not achievable by an individual learner working alone. Authentic activities make collaboration integral to the task, both within the course and in the real world.

6. Reflection (metacognition): Authentic activities enable learners to make choices and reflect on their learning, both individually and as a team or community.

7. Interdisciplinary perspective: Relevance is not confined to a single domain or subject matter specialization. Instead, authentic activities have consequences that extend beyond a particular discipline, encouraging students to adopt diverse roles and think in interdisciplinary terms.

8. Integrated assessment: Assessment is not merely summative in authentic activities but is woven seamlessly into the major task in a manner that reflects real-world evaluation processes.

9. Polished products: Conclusions are not merely exercises or substeps in preparation for something else. Authentic activities culminate in the creation of a whole product, valuable in its own right.

10. Multiple interpretations and outcomes: Rather than yielding a single correct answer obtained by the application of rules and procedures, authentic activities allow for diverse interpretations and competing solutions.

 SO, HOW DO PROVINCIAL ACHIEVEMENT TESTS AND DIPLOMA EXAMS HELP WITH AUTHENTIC LEARNING?

IT DOES NOT HELP OUR STUDENTS! IT IS TIME TO CHANGE OUR CURRICULUM AND ASSESSMENT IN OUR PRACTICE TO MAKE OUR STUDENTS BETTER LIFE LONG LEARNERS.

Authentic learning is happening all over the province, but standardize tests are limiting the progess. Here is a link to help the province and teachers be better assessers of authentic learning. It is a toolbox created by Jon Mueller.

I hope over time we see the cancelization of our provincial exams, a narrower curriculum with the ability to have more authentic learning, and better measurement of student performance. As our superintendent Chris Smeaton (@cdsmeaton) says “This type of learningrequires a shift from content focused to competency based. Knowledge is no longer sacredly held by only the adults in the school. It is readily available and easily accessible. Learning for tomorrow is about creating citizens and developing character.”

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