Education Speak

Tuesday, March 14th, 2006

At the college we’ve talking a lot about ability-based teaching and learning. Invariably, this had led to discussion about the diction of education as a matter of practice. What is an educational objective, for example? In the mean time, I’ve been having interesting conversations with students who are beginning to think not in terms of grades but in terms of abilities because of the way I’ve presented evaluations in British Literature and elsewhere, especially in the development of research projects. The core of the ability-based architecture is the articulation of active verbs, such as those modeled by Bloom in the famous taxonomy, which cashes verbs in a cognitive framework. Practically speaking, after observation comes analysis. How does a student learn chemistry? How do they grow into the domain of science? When can a student go beyond identifying relationships to drawing insight.

Here’s an example. On an exam, I asked students to identify a concept and to explain it in a particular context. The context was Romanticism. The concept was metaphor. The question is meant to provide students the opportunity to identify then to connect not to generate interpretation or argument. In working through the question, the student writes about Romanticism and about metaphor and I can guage to what degree the ideas square against the discipline and to what the degree the student is drawing insight from the material. In talking to students about how to improve in their precision, how to evaluate their own work, we get to engage in hardnosed talk about Barbauld, Blake, and Mill.

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