Exploring New Pathways: An Invitation to Participate in Educational Change.

This is the outline for a series of guided resources for use in teacher preparation and professional development in education. These thematically-based resources are also directed to all those who see education itself as an ongoing source of questions we can explore together.

The series was created from a video archive of more than 300 interviews with administrators, teachers, students, parents and community members who work and live in rural British Columbia, Canada. These interviews are part of the ongoing documentation of projects that are supported by the Growing Innovation in Rural Sites of Learning Initiative, a joint effort of the Rix Professorship of Rural Teacher education at the University of British Columbia’s Department of Curriculum & Pedagogy and the B.C. Ministry of Education.

Under the auspices of the B.C. Rural Education Advisory, Growing Innovation is an important part of a rural education commons unique to British Columbia.  It aims to provide a place for educators and their publics to participate in diverse ways proper to the powerful diversity of education as a whole.  Not solely to represent what is or has already been, the documentation of Growing Innovation aims to extend and enrich the educational conversations that are ongoing in the Province and beyond, in places both rural and urban.

Since 2011, Growing Innovation has supported 39 innovative projects in rural education throughout BC. Numerous publications have been inspired by these projects, and their artifacts and resources, including videos, are available at www.ruralteachers.com. These videos represent shared investigations through “participatory video inquiry,” where interviewees join in the creation of questions and themes for discussion and documentation.

Some themes are common to all the videos, such as Innovation, Engagement, Community, Assessment, Curriculum and the encounter of First Nations cultures with contemporary educational institutions. Because of the wealth of the interview material, we continue to develop interactive platforms through which educators and administrators may participate in the conversations at the heart of Growing Innovation. This series is one such effort.

The project as a whole is animated by a vital commitment that has emerged through the work of Growing Innovation: Educational leadership should be “centrally concerned with beginning and sustaining educational dialogue” (Coulter et. al., 2007). Such dialogue is supported by these resource ‘Pathways’ or sequences, which may be viewed for various purposes:

  1. In teacher education as curricular and pedagogical resources;
  2. In professional development, as instigators of shared inquiry;
  3. In thinking through particular change initiatives at school, district and community levels;
  4. As bases for further research into educational questions.


Exploring Assessment in Education

This is our second exploration in a series of theme-based new pathways in educational change.

Rich with insight and story, this sequence is based around curated conversations that explore the theme of assessment in education.  The product of collaborative video inquiry, where participants were invited to share in the process of discovery and development of  topics and themes in question, it invites our own participation in the searching dialogues that comprise the essence and crucible of transformation and ethical practice in education.

With each exploration of assessment in education, we ask questions of the insights, comments and experiences we hear.  We may participate in them by extending their contexts, considering their diversity, their implications, even perhaps their contradictions.  Education has always been of such necessary complexity as to defy tidy closure, so the aim is to support our own explorations, conversations and further study as variously as possible.

In the posts that follow in this Exploring Assessment series, are presented the videos along with supporting resources for thematic explorations entitled as follows:

  1. The Contexts and Scope of Assessment
  2. The Difficulty and Challenge of Assessment
  3. Educators Reengaging Assessment
  4. Assessment’s “Mysteries” Made Visible
  5. The Assessment “Machine” vs. “Huge Possibility”
  6. Coda:  On Inexpert Multidisciplinary Assessment Development
  7. Extensions:  Pedagogy & Selected Bibliography

Like teaching itself, these pathways are intended to be an immersive experience, one participated in generatively, and not necessarily didactically. They do not follow a single idea at a time, nor do they resolve the issues the speakers open. Instead they present to the viewer a complex of unfinished issues, dispositions, thoughts and feelings that, like the errant abundance of life itself, the searching educator can pursue in their own way, with others or alone.  And please do not neglect to share with us resources or stories that come to mind as you move through the pathway.

We hope you appreciate the journey, and may come to find it better taken together.  Along with our pilot Pathway on Engagement, further “Exploring” sequences are forthcoming on new pathways in education change concerning curriculum, collaboration, place and place-consciousness, leadership, and social justice.  Please explore them all with us, and share your explorations as an educational commitment.

Con courage por la vie.

Exploring Assessment 1 – The Contexts and Scope of Assessment

In this initial instalment of the Exploring Assessment Pathway series, we may begin to see in the statements of leaders in (rural) education various forms of engagement with the historical thinking that informs what has been given as assessment in contemporary education in this part of the (broadly European-derived) world.

Here we find assessment in flux, subject to radical revision, even largely outmoded, and differentially complex with respect to different age groups of children. Further, assessment and its culture in education are variously articulated, as a kind of monological indoctrination, as an ethnocentric and broadly habituated ruse of legitimacy, and as systematic credentialing in the subordination to the authority of certain forms of knowledge—and also to their associated pedagogical and professional expertise. As much as assessment determines the ‘direction’ of education, in creating and sustaining what is of value, it is seen also, more importantly, to exclude, deceive, confound, and legitimate.

Thus, the consensus among these educational leaders of rural school districts in British Columbia is that assessment can only today call us to inquiry, to the beginnings of a new project of invention, and this is inquiry in, and toward, the ethics of education itself.

As in the first New Pathway (on the Engagement in education), again we begin with educator/administrators reflective about a structural, historical and systemic pathology—this time not with respect to how educators and students are engaged in education, but instead with how value is instituted in education.

Again and again, the willingness to open the educational discussion to uncomfortable and difficult questions—like the insufficiencies, parochialisms, and failings of educational institution—has been the basis of a searching courage characteristic of all of the projects Growing Innovation has been privileged to support. We hope it may inspire you as well…to the kinds of commitments and transformations we have seen and been able to document in Growing Innovation in Rural Sites of Learning.

This brief video starts us exploring assessment with the comments of two superintendents of schools and three school principals.  They work and live in four school districts in British Columbia from the Province’s Central Interior, Kootenay and Peace River regions. The interviews took place from 2012 to 2016. With them lets take the first step:

Some questions to consider (we recommend brief small group discussions that can each then ‘compare notes’ about the different directions opened in how such ‘complicated’ conversations can go):

How do you respond to this video?

What does it bring to mind for you?

How did you learn about education from assessment? What memories and feelings does the concept inspire for you?

How do you think assessment informs how education and what ‘to be educated” are conceived, and accepted?

From where do the ways assessment is historically determined in education originate? Of what forms of power has it been, and is it a part? What struggles for the ‘soul’ of education in and through the legitimacy of different forms of assessment?

Exploring Assessment 2: The Difficulty and Challenge of Assessment

Ok, so it looks like we’re on our way!

In this step, we ourselves are on the journey of inquiry the educational leaders introduced in the first step of this pathway. So, where do we find ourselves? In questions of the difficulty, its presence and its absence, in assessment in education.

A good two decades ago now, the Dean of Education at the University of British Columbia described educational assessment as a “conspiracy of convenience.” Listening here to three school principals and three teachers in rural school districts in British Columbia, it’s difficult to disagree that such might still too-often be the case. But, what exactly is easy in ‘traditional’ assessment, and where precisely is the difficulty, and thus the challenge, of assessment as we move together in a journey of inquiry?  Here we begin to explore such questions:

Some questions to consider (we recommend brief small group discussions that can each then ‘compare notes’ about the different directions opened in how such ‘complicated’ conversations can go):

How do you respond to this video?

What does it bring to mind for you?

How important is it to you that education avoid not having to ‘think’? What is at stake in this question? Where, why and with whom might it be important to engage it?

What is seen to escape ‘traditional’ assessment in the conversation this video convenes?  What is problematic about it?

What do we begin to hear about as alternatives to ‘traditional’ assessment?

What is the image of the student for educators who search for new forms of assessment?

What, then, is the student to ‘traditional’ forms of assessment?

Exploring Assessment 3: Educators Reengaging Assessment

Here things get tricky!

Already, so close to the very outset, our pathway’s mode of (ethical) engagement in education – inquiry – is itself is called into question.  Suddenly, the very way we are seeking to re-encounter assessment in education, as something we would wish for students, becomes itself a problem, and a very tricky anonymous inaugural question:  “How do we assess inquiry?”  We don’t even have to see Josh for him to be making trouble for us…

This step on the pathway begins in the fruitful trouble of the generative impasse of a question less to answer than to inhabit.  Some questions we can live as instances of, the consequences of which follow, as in this step we hear from four educators, two administrator/educators and one superintendent of schools as they reengage assessment, and struggle sometimes to valourize and validate alternate forms of assessment…

In this step begins to ‘leak’ the question of student assessment into teacher assessment, as well as assessment in research, as the supports of ‘traditional’ forms of assessment begin to fail and assessment is no longer protected by presumed institutional and teacher authority.

Some questions to consider (we recommend brief small group discussions that can each then ‘compare notes’ about the different directions opened in how such ‘complicated’ conversations can go):

How do you respond to this video?

What does it bring to mind for you?

How many forms of assessment did you hear mentioned in this video?  How many have you tried?  What is the importance of these, in your experience?  What are some of their challenges?

In what ways can you hear the forms of assessment described as changing the role of the student in their education?  How are/are not these valuable, in your view?

What is the status of ‘being more anecdotal’ in assessment practice in your jurisdiction?  What is taken for granted about assessment where you live and work?

Questions of assessment are, of course, not limited to education and schools – where in these discussion can we begin to see assessment as a more broad question than one solely fixed within ‘traditional’ education?  Why is it important to (re)engage assessment in such a way?  What do you imagine are the advantages and opportunities of doing so?

Discuss the resistance to change in education in terms of images of what assessment is, and what it is for.  Find the points of discomfort for you and name them – then reengage these too…

Exploring Assessment 4: Assessment’s “Mysteries” Made Visible

Inquiry is often spiral, it returns to itself anew.  The politics of assessment makes its entry onto this pathway here, as four school principals, and one each of a teacher, a school trustee and a superintendent of schools contribute to our inquiry as it turns outward…outward in place, and outward in time.

Some questions to consider (we recommend brief small group discussions that can each then ‘compare notes’ about the different directions opened in how such ‘complicated’ conversations can go):

How do you respond to this video?

What does it bring to mind for you?

What is your reaction to the statement that “We’re not really in sight of what learning is…”?

What is, and is not, the image of the student fostered by what you heard in this video? (it’s complicated, right?)

In this discussion, what is the place of education in society?  Where does it ‘belong’?

Where exactly do you see the politics of education in this discussion?  (some hints:  re: the place of children in society, the public image of assessment, the validity of measurement, the ‘dishonesty’ of the artifices of assessment, the collaborative necessities of legitimate assessment…)

Discuss either or both of these two statements:

“Is it where they end up…or how much they’ve grown?”

“This world is one of ‘token economies’ – and the sooner children are prepared for it, the better.”

What are your responses to (and comfort with) “simple goals” that, instead of predetermining outcomes, that “allow for a whole range of possibilities”?

How many questions arise in this video?  List and rank them in order of your sense of their importance, and share why you did it that way.

Assessment has both a “great mystery” as well as a “mystical” dimension.  What could be the relation of the two?

Exploring Assessment 5: The Assessment “Machine” vs “Huge Possibility”

Moving right along…we’re nearing the end (for now).  Here assessment has spilled right out of curriculum altogether, and into questions of teacher and program assessment.  Then, after considering assessment and teacher identity and assessment regimes beyond this jurisdiction and their contrast to British Columbia’s, we return to conclude with structural and curricular challenges to a responsive and creative practice of assessment worthy of children’s gifts and dreams.  All this we are taken through by two superintendents of schools, two school principals, one teacher and (finally!) a student.  Can we at least say, students are having the (a) last word here?  Ok, maybe not…truth is:  mostly it was educators who have discussed assessment with us.

Some questions to consider (we recommend brief small group discussions that can each then ‘compare notes’ about the different directions opened in how such ‘complicated’ conversations can go):

How do you respond to this video?

What does it bring to mind for you?

Was assessment in your education more ‘machine’ or ‘huge possibility’?

How has your thinking of assessment changed so far through the journey of the pathway?  What trajectory would your ‘pathway of inquiry in assessment’ take?

How do teacher and program assessment differ from student assessment?  What inherent differences, if any, are there?  What similarities and echoes of one in the other do you hear, as you ‘reengage’ assessment?  Why do such questions matter?

Be honest:  Have you ever heard lack of formal evaluation as ‘honouring professionalism’?  Why might this be entirely appropriate in education?

‘Curricular outcomes are unimportant to me’:  Heresy…or praxis of freedom?  Why?  What is going on in this provocative part of the discussion?

Is it ethical, or unethical, for education to not ‘know where it is going’?

Consider together Coulter’s (et. al.) notion of educational leadership as “instigating difficult conversations.”  In your view, what specific supports do educators require to lead?

Of what relevance is changes in ‘teacher identity’ to education?

How can you imagine the timetabling of education to be changed to recognize the complexity of student work and its emerging commitments?

In your view, and perhaps also some of those here in this step’s discussion, how can a ‘culture of assessment’ become an ‘engagement in culture’?  Should it?


With Brooke, may you also “feel like you’re making headway…”

Exploring Assessment 6 – Coda: On Inexpert Multidisciplinary Assessment Development

Obviously, the smallest step on this pathway needed the biggest name…

So here we come to an end of many beginnings, with a coda of a few statements and reflections we could not bear to omit – with regard for some of the commitments to assessment that were shared with us for you to consider as you further develop and explore your own.  Here we finally leave you to your own questions…as we conclude in listening to two teachers and a principal.

Thank you for sharing this journey with us, please do continue to share with us!   And thank you also for sharing our gratitude to those who so searchingly have shared with us in order to make this pathway possible.  May they know their courage is our inspiration.