Are teachers losing confidence in measuring student achievement?

The potential we need to watch out for!

I recall the Peanuts cartoon that the principal at my first teaching appointment had pinned up on his planning board, behind his desk.  I suspect many in education might know it through sharing: its profound truth about the importance of ‘potential’ with its relationship to expectation acknowledged between us with a rye smile at Schultz’s insight.


A physicist and mathematician, my principal had gained entrance to the University of Melbourne at a ridiculously young age. As a school leader, l had the ability to provoke his staff into debating existentialist questions, even while they fought back, objecting to such esoteric pursuits. Of course, at twenty-one, I didn’t understand exactly how viewing the potential of students was a burden! I just experienced the staff’s debating over the direction of teaching and learning as robust, to say the least. From my ‘ring-side’ seat. I watched staff debating the value of high expectations versus those who said they ‘just wanted to do their job’!

Fast-forwarding a few decades or so, I have come to view the possibility that just maybe the trouble with debating contrasting views is the danger that the adversarial ‘OR’ is at the expense of the more complicated, and often less dramatic, ‘AND’. I remember the defeated look of the staff ‘peacemakers’ as they argued that they wanted to work on how the ‘burden’ of  carrying a high expectation for students related to their current practice.   The staff meeting would go very quiet as we pondered the possibility of how as teachers we were meant to be agents of substantial change.

Everywhere we look, we see more complexity

Education Endowment Foundation
The top two pedagogical approaches in the EEF Teaching & Learning Toolkit

Curriculum writers and teachers planning programs and lessons, today, benefit from easily accessed tools to use a variety of different pedagogical approaches. There is a banquet of learning theories on the most effective way of enabling students to achieve learning outcomes set by National and State authorities. The data and evidence available are on a massive scale. The UK’s Education Endowment Foundation, who have produced the Teaching and Learning Toolkit , for instance, compares 34 pedagogical approaches based on classroom evidence gathered over a number of years.

The existence of such vast amounts of evidence means that school leaders and teachers advocating particular strategies might do well to consider the warning described in Principle 9 of Hattie’s & Yates’ Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn (2014) that ‘fallacious ideas of human learning continue to be promoted despite being contradicted by available scientific opinion and evidence’. Ironically, the EEF’s report on neuroscience and education exposes the fallacy of the notion of ‘learning styles’, a popular theory from the 1990s onward.

Some complexities are avoidable

Articulate StorylineI witnessed a ‘game changer’ in 2012 when the rapid authoring software, Articulate Storyline, was launched. Since then, I have also seen how its chief rival,  Adobe Captivate, has also undergone progressive changes, making it more user-friendly. During BETT 2013, Articulate’s chief learning architect, Tom Kuhlmann addressed his audience at a London Masterclass which I attended warning them of putting the technology before the pedagogy.

Making a joke of the three-point structure of most professional learning presentations, Kuhlmann outlined the benefits and limitations of e-learning authoring tools through the following three points:

  • The ‘democratisation of e-learning’ through rapid authoring software had well and truly arrived.
  • Everyone now had the tools to create courses online.
  • No one should doubt that they had the capacity to create the ‘Frankencourse’  – his analogy for the worst course design imaginable by highlighting the danger of letting technological tools take over educational processes.

Kuhlmann makes it clear to his audience that we are well capable as educators to avoid the ‘Frankencourse’ because we can test for the impact of overly elaborate curriculum design.

I couldn’t help think at the time, that as both Storyline and Captivate have conceptual and practical links to PowerPoint presentation software, we actually have had, since the late 1980s, a tool to create the equivalent of the Frankencourse with slides. Now, there are dozens of presentational software products and apps that can be used to design learning programs, as well as interactive whiteboards and mobile devices in the classroom. Frankencourses walk the earth!!

As the authors of Online Communication (2005), a popular textbook for undergraduate communication courses internationally, state, the real challenge is not so much the proliferation of the modes of communicating but ‘the synthesis of technology, identity, and culture’ . As school leaders and teachers, we have to ‘pick our battles’ as we work to understand the value of what we do, but we also know how hard it is, for instance, to take the time to plan more in terms of best practices in education.

What if we were to let Lucy have the last word?

How metaphors obscure as well!!

We are all at times like Lucy, looking for just the right diagnosis which sums up what we see before us in our schools and classrooms. Based on ‘the evidence’ as she sees it, her judgement of Charlie Brown is that he’s ‘a loser’!

‘Just wait ’til next year’ is a reminder that time is on Charlie Brown’s side, as it must be for us as we work to understand something as complicated as our students’ potential as learners.  It can never be easy… and if we feel it is, then that’s confirmation that we’re not doing our job carefully enough and that, in the ironic words of H. L. Mencken, we have become oblivious to the fact the

For every complex problem, there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.