Interview and Discussion as Assessment (some thoughts)

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I am officially on holiday and here is something I keep thinking about…

In our last week of the school year, as we were wrapping up our inquiries into sharing the planet, waste, and human impacts of other living things, we had a chance to hold a Skype interview with Angela Haseltine Pozzi the founder and artistic director of a non-profit called, Washed Ashore.  This wonderful organization creates large and beautiful pieces of art entirely from plastic that is collected from beaches and shorelines.

We first learned about Angela’s work on a video from the website The Kid’s Should See This.  In this video, Angela made a comment that really affected the students.  She said something to the effect of, “I want to put myself out of business.”  The intention behind this statement was that if there was no more plastic waste washed ashore then she could not create her art, and that would be a good thing for the planet.  The Grade 2’s loved this idea.  She also mentioned that she had given herself a challenge as an artist: to never buy a new material for her artwork again.  This challenge also resonated with the students as they reflected on what things in their daily life they could try to refuse (plastic straws, plastic bags, etc.) in an effort to be more sustainable.  My colleague reached out to Angela and she agreed to Skype with us.

As you can see, we had nearly 50 students gathered together for the interview so it was more Q and A than discussion.  The students had some time beforehand to prepare questions and for about 30 minutes, they patiently and eagerly asked and listened to Angela’s answers.  This was their time, so as teachers we sat back.  My colleague and I noticed something so heartening as the interview carried on. The students were asking questions that connected with and tapped into concepts and understandings from this inquiry but also from many of our past inquiries from the school year.  It was wonderful to hear.

I turned to my colleague and said, “This is our assessment!” 

This school year, we had inquired into empathy, structures and their design, life in challenging environments and natural disasters, and ecosystems.  Students were asking Angela questions about the stability of her large structures (“How do you make the base strong enough to hold the statue?”), the environment she lives in (“Do hurricanes ever come to where you live?”), the impact on the ocean ecosystem (“When the animals eat the plastic does it affect the food web?”).  They were thinking through all of these conceptual lenses! This was a slice of our assessment!

The big takeaway for me is that learning and understanding will happen but not always within the time constraints of our scope and sequence and timelines.  Concepts will not always be understood by the end of the unit, but most likely, they will be understood.  It is my job to keep listening, noting, and giving feedback.  It is my job to facilitate more experiences like this one.  An interview with an specialist at the end of an inquiry will always be good.  The next step though is plenty of engaging opportunities to talk with all sorts of specialists all throughout the year.  Connected to this, it is my job to find a way to hold all learning targets and key concepts for the school year so I can note when learning and understanding occur.  This is about documentation.  Finally, how are we reporting on student learning?  How can we do it better and in a way that is more true to learners who do not all follow the timeline we put on paper?

As always, I welcome any thoughts you may have.

feature image photo credits: Priscilla the Parrotfish.  Sculpture created by Washed Ashore. Photo free to use and share from creativecommons.org

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