Modern Learners 2018 Provocation of the Year

We often start the New Year with resolutions, some more ambitious than others, so when you hear Keith Richards is to give up the booze, you know the world is certainly changing!  However nowadays it’s also become more common to end the year with titles such as Time’s Person of the Year, the Oxford Dictionary’s Word of the Year and now, just what you have been waiting for…. the Modern Learners 2018 Provocation of the Year.

2018 has indeed been a very different year, in so many ways. Economically volatile, politically unpredictable, while in education it’s also fair to say the conversation is changing quite dramatically. While we’d all like to think we are a small part of making that happen, there are now many more diverse voices calling for us to rethink what school could and should be.

At long last we are starting to become comfortable at being uncomfortable.

So here at Modern Learners, our humble place in all of this has been to seek to create a space where people freely share ideals, ideas, and insights about what school can be. Where educators can share their thoughts openly and where diverse opinion is respected, all of which helps remove the isolation of thought leadership.

But you can only get those vibrant, thoughtful, deep conversations when listening is preferred above speaking, when questions are prioritized above answers, and when provocation presents a platform for new ideas, for a different perspective that might otherwise never have been heard.

In this context, provocation is therefore about deconstructing meanings and hidden agendas, challenging assumptions and seeking new ways of thinking not just about what we do, or how we do it, but most importantly, why we do what we do.

It is in this context that the choice for our 2018 Provocation of the Year came down to a single word… assessment.

It was a standout. Through our 2018, there were few conversations, online discussions, community posts, labs, workshops, webinars or articles where assessment didn’t raise its ugly sweet head…and does that really surprise you?

It’s a word that has been manipulated and bastardized beyond any real meaning, and has come to be detested by students, commodified by corporations, leveraged by textbook and tutoring companies, and exploited by politicians, all the while being used to reign in the professional autonomy of educators…until now!

The very fact that some twisted logic has allowed student high-stakes assessment to determine which teachers retain tenure or gain promotion, which schools should be closed while at the same time causing extreme student stress, undermines any pretense about learning, and completely belies any common sense.

When we released our Assessment Ebook (now available in audio too) in March this year, we were overwhelmed by the number of people who downloaded it, shared it and then used it to provoke critical conversations across their school community. Many told us that it served as a call to action, a chance to stop and reflect on the assessment practices that they had taken for granted for so long, and look at what they might do differently. It was a catalyst for reflection and review.

It’s why we had a record 645 people sign up for our Assessment webinar in June, and why the Modern Learners Labs we ran in Auckland and Christchurch in New Zealand in August were so well received. It’s also why, when we came to launching our first Modern Learners Course, Reimagining Assessment was an obvious first choice.

But in no way is this just about the work we are doing at Modern Learners. This is a word that in 2018 has provoked many of the most highly respected writers to release books, including Deborah Meier and Matthew Knoester‘s Beyond Testing, Anya Kamenetz’s The Test, and Daniel Koretz’s The Testing Charade, plus hundreds of articles and posts in the public and via social media, all challenging the assumptions we make about assessment, and calling out for a reimagination of what it should mean for our young people today.

Indeed as one of the most prolific writers on the topic, Alfie Kohn suggested, “assessment should be an unobtrusive servant of teaching and learning.”

Now there’s a provocation to really start a vibrant conversation.

It’s also why the movement that is rethinking transcripts, Mastery Consortium, is getting so much publicity and momentum, and why more and more people are talking about what “gradeless might offer their students as they test legacy assessment practices in their school.

Indeed there are a lot more prominent conversations that are challenging the core rationale that has driven our previous unquestioning acceptance of traditional assessments. Adam Grant’s recent opinion piece in the New York Times was an excellent example of this…

“Academic excellence is not a strong predictor of career excellence. Across industries, research shows that the correlation between grades and job performance is modest in the first year after college and trivial within a handful of years.”

And parents?…well dare I say it, but in many places, they’re more puzzled than ever, because while we’re all busy firing up the education community, we aren’t spending near enough time sharing our ideas and insights about what reimagined assessment should and could look like to those beyond the school gates.

So that sets an agenda for all of us in 2019. I think we have to think about how we can take this provocation to the wider community: our parents, our students, and importantly to those in the public media. We can’t repeat the mistakes of previous iterations and assume the community understands why we think this is so important and what they can do about it.

It takes us back to where we started the year, to our beliefs around learning. If we can’t anchor our conversations around a topic as provocative as assessment in our beliefs around learning, then frankly, all is lost.

So maybe that even sets up a possible resolution for 2019. Stand by what you believe. It’s surely the foundation for the most productive conversations you can have with peers and your school community, and it gives you a strong foundation to lead deeper conversations around a provocative topic like assessment.

So from Will, Missy, Lyn, Hazel, Wendy, Sadie, myself and the whole Modern Learners team…all of our very best thoughts are with you for the season. We hope you have some exceptional family time and great merriment, and that you can look forward to a rewarding 2019.

1 thought on “Modern Learners 2018 Provocation of the Year”

  1. And a very happy merry jolly berry and new year to all of you at Modern Learners.

    And yes – traditional assessment is the king killer of learning. Gets an A grade every time. Pure unadulterated 4.0 GPA in self-defeating soul destruction. Grades and grading – the twinned time-wasting tyrants of teaching. Unnecessary, and of no useful purpose except to make the egg sorters happy. So all power to the collective elbow of all those laboring to lift the yoke.

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