My collaboration with ACASE and particularly with Paul Zachos has given me: Knowledge of an different, more honest, and more effective way of assessing my students. A giant leap from the typical grading techniques used in education. Tools to implement the technique including assessments and assessment strategies, rubrics, and an information system that allows for evaluation of students learning on specific learning goals. Support through conversations, time, and literature that have allowed me to think through, process, and develop my understanding of assessment and evaluation. Opportunities to practice and implement evaluation as part of the ACASE team, as a presenter at conferences and workshops, as a participant in ACASE events. Combined these experiences and tools have completely transformed my instruction and classroom into an effective and human center of learning.
I used to be conflicted about course objectives in my early years of teaching. On the one hand all my experience as a student told me that test scores were important so the kinds of things I was asked to do on tests were what really mattered: reproducing facts, solving one-step problems and making simple connections. On the other hand, I deeply valued higher-level analysis, loving science, finding elegant solutions to problems…but those were too esoteric to expect my students to get. Besides, I had no way of assessing them so I could report success to parents and to college admissions boards. While I usually focused on teaching the concrete objectives like those that students would see on the Regents exams or SAT subject tests, I watched hopefully for the emergence of the more abstract ones. I was uncomfortable with the disconnect.
My work with ACASE showed me how to find a path between the two. It taught me I could help students learn the broad skills by focusing on the less abstract ones (like asking well-formed questions), which in turn were supported by relatively simple skills and concrete knowledge I could address in single exercises or units. That process started with clearly defining the broad goals and considering creative ways to measure them. That had an unexpected benefit: once I carefully articulated, for example, that I want students a goal of “confidence in the ability to apply natural laws when analyzing phenomena”, I starting seeing the first germs of the attitude in class. This gave me the opportunity to nurture its growth and become effective at teaching something that I used to think would probably only come up by chance.
When you are a student in school, if lucky, you have 2 or 3 teachers who don’t just offer instruction but change your life markedly and for the better. These life changers are able to see who you are, what you need and contribute something new to the way you view yourself and/or the world.
In my 25 year career as an educator I have encountered only 2 professional development experiences worthy to be viewed like those early life changing experiences I had in the classroom as a young person. My work with ACASE is one of them. ACASE has a unique ability to see teachers (and the young people we teach) both in their deepest and competence and need for support. In bringing forth a revolution in how to approach assessment and grading, they are artful, deliberate and precise. Working with ACASE allowed me to take everything I had already done and transform it into a much more powerful, effective and humane “tool kit” with which to work with and help my students. It has changed my teaching life and inspired me anew to bring forth the best in myself and those I teach.