June 25, 2012 by Willy Cardoso
I’ve been thinking about growth and education; where they overlap, how one serves the other and vice-versa.
And assessment. Mainly, whose notions of growth are implicit in the way we assess our students.
Inevitably, there are many stakeholders in education, so notions of growth will come from all around: parents, teachers, ministry of education, publishers, etc.
When is a student’s notion of growth given attention to? Sadly, the answer is hardly ever.
In many modern discourses about education one common meeting point is the idea that we (parents, teachers, etc) should place the student in the center of what we’re all trying to achieve, namely learning, education and growth. Hence, we’ve had an unstoppable trend towards what is vaguely understood as student-centerdness or learner-centeredness.
Placing the learner in the center means giving him/her more autonomy and more responsibility; giving him/her tools to achieve self-directed learning; plus other vague terms such as: self-awareness, independence, control, individualization and self-assessment.
By and large, I believe that saying education should be learner-centered is no longer necessary because it has become somewhat common sense that this is how it should be. I reckon no teacher would say ‘no, I don’t think this should be learner-centered’. Of course, saying is not doing. Whereas I think the majority of teachers I know would agree that learner-centeredness is preferred, I doubt half of them actually DO learner-centeredness.
There are many problems with this claim I’ve just made, obviously. Firstly, my idea of learner-centeredness may differ dramatically from other teachers'; hence, I think they’re not doing it as I understand it. This inevitable subjectivity leads to one of the main problems of this story, that which in fact shows us any teaching is teacher-centered, to a certain extent.
The teacher is the most active-subjective agent in the whole thing. By active-subjective I mean s/he, more than anyone else, has the power/ability/position/etc to make highly subjective assumptions about students and act on them. Although students also have subjective interpretations of the business of being in a classroom, they are at the passive end of it, one of powerlessness.
The idea of moving towards a learner-centered approach to education relies on the fact that teachers, being where they are, have to be the driving forces of this change. There is a paradoxical assumption that teachers, already disempowered by everyone else in the business, will give in the only power they have left, that of controlling students’ learning, to give way to learner-centeredness; ultimately signing the sentence of their own eventual uselessness.
But even if the majority of teachers agreed that full-on learner-centeredness is desirable, we would still not accomplish the task. For there is a bigger problem before us: assessment.
Educational enterprises will support learner-centredness at classroom level, but not at assessment level. It is believed that accurate assessment is done by those external to the classroom, done by following wider standards.
Who knows better about the language stage and development of one student of English as a foreign language?
- The teacher who has taught her for the past 1 or 2 years?
- Cambridge ESOL?
Can there be fostering of learner-centeredness while curriculum, education, and life in general have become so test-centered?
I would expect any serious discourse of learner-centerdness to place the learner at the center of assessment.
Assessment is making goals clear, positioning learners in relation to these goals and laying out directions to achieve them. One of the tenets of learner autonomy is that the learner is able to set goals for herself and then to manage the trajectory toward their achievement.
How can one be assessed in ways other than those in which their goals were set? For learning to be personal, assessment has to be as well.
Not only goal-setting should be fostered in our students, but also what constitutes achieving it and how they will know when they achieve it.
The opposite of learner-centeredness is less the evil teacher-centeredness, and more the wealthy test-centered culture we feed everyday when we administer standardized tests, when we reprimand a child for getting bad grades in tests, when we value more the Cambridge FCE than the teacher’s qualitative feedback, when we spend 6 months teaching students to pass the IELTS test to go to a British university, instead of spending 6 months teaching them English and how to become good communicators in this foreign country.
Learning and teaching is growth. John Dewey said there’s nothing which growth is relative to except more growth; nothing is relative to education except more education.
Tests are relative, one-sided, greedy, monological, elitist, and exclusive.
All in all, anti-educational.