Posted in Classroom Examples, Why Unlearn?

Are exams relevant anymore?

Today’s classroom        vs    Today’s workplace

If 21st Century Competency Skills are leaning towards the 4Cs should we get rid of exams?

At the end of each course in Ontario high schools students have to complete a summative task that is worth approximately 30% of their final mark.  Traditionally this included a culminating task for the course and a final exam. Up until about four years ago I abided by this summative task and had my students complete a traditional summative and exam.  However, unknowingly to me, my unlearning journey had begun and we made a shift from traditional tasks to more reflective tasks in the traditional model. My students still did their summative and exam but it became a time for reflection that was assessed on their ability to do just that – not what they knew about the course material. Fortunately for me a few years ago teachers were given the greenlight to use their professional judgement and decide what we saw fit for a summative task for our courses. As I continued to unlearn I didn’t think that testing my students on the course content really worked well with what academics were suggesting were 21st century competency skills The 4Cs: communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity.  Many will argue that if we don’t test and give students exams they will not be prepared for University – I call BS on that.  I argue that if we teach the students skills and to be lifelong learners they will be able to do anything, including taking tests if they have to.  So last year we scrapped the exam completely and moved onto what we call Exit Outcome reflections and the Social Science Fair instead of a traditional exam. For those interested I will explain what we do below :).  

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Summative Task Part I – Course Reflection

In the first part of the summative task students reflect on their experience in the course (what they are proud of, what they learned, favourite experience, challenges and failures) and the OCDSB Exit Outcomes.  The Exit Outcomes are five characteristics (Collaborative, Globally Aware, Goal-oriented, Innovative/Creative, Resilient) and five skills (Academically Diverse, Critical Thinkers, Digitally Fluent, Effective Communicators, Ethical Decision-makers) that our board is trying to develop in every student. They are expected to provide examples from course material, experiences and from their personal research to showcase all of the above.  They are assessed on their ability to truly reflect and provide examples. I love reading their reflections, to me this is way more valuable than having them write an exam on only course material. It gives them an opportunity to understand the process and really look at the importance of these skills. I know that ever since we have started to define and understand these characteristics and skills in our classroom it has made me think about how I am working on them as well.  It really gives the students an understanding of WHY we are doing what we are doing and hopefully trickles out of our classroom into their daily lives as well. Students can reflect any way that they want. This past semester I had written responses, mind maps, vlogs and podcasts – I am open to any way they see fit. Below are some examples of the amazing and honest answers from the reflections.
First year unlearners

I failed big time in this course, but I failed forward and I learned a lot more than I thought I would. I learned that it’s ok to fail and its ok to not succeed in everything as long as you learn from it and fix it for next time. I learned that it’s ok to put yourself out there even if people don’t answer which is something that I had a lot of trouble with. I was very scared to reach out and ask for help because there is always the risk of failure and the fact that they might not answer but that is ok.   (KO)

My biggest takeaway from the inquiries was that everyone needs help, the level of help will differ from person to person but so will the ability to ask. People all over the world need help, whether that be because they are hungry, homeless or just need to start a conversation. I also learned that even as grade 10 students we can still make a difference. Obviously we won’t be able to end homelessness overnight but just becoming educated on the subject is a start too changing the issue. (EA)

Through the semester I also learned a lot about who I am as a learner and how hard it is for me to learn independently. I’ve had to learn how to unlearn and while trying to do that I learned a lot about myself and how difficult I found it to focus and stay on task. I’ve learned how talkative I can be and how mark oriented I am and that affected my overall performance but it did help me self reflect in learn new things about myself. (MSS)

Second year unlearners

I will continue to be a moonshot thinker by continuing to believe that nothing is out of reach, to think outside of the box, and to not be afraid to try out new things, because doing all of these things will result in growth. I will choose to be bothered by problems so that I can one day find a solution to the problem. By doing this, I might one day be able to accomplish something that will change the world, because if I believe that I can make it happen, then it will happen. (KV)

 
Third year unlearners

It has been a challenge to unlearn, we are used to learning in one way but now we are asked to do it differently.  I am a bookworm and I like to follow rules and in here we are breaking them and bending them. (ME)
To say it’s been a wild ride would be an understatement, I have been fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to take over six of Mrs. Chambers classes. My first class was grade 10 history when I started out I was just your average student, I knew how to work the system; you give me the work, tell me how you want it done and I’ll get it done just as you asked. The school system had killed any and all creativity inside of me. One day, Mrs. Chambers posed the question “What do you want to learn?” I had no idea how to respond to a question as absurd as that. Impressed at her perseverance and determination; she had finally cracked me. It was a long process filled with more failures than success. I needed to learn how to unlearn. The student I was in that grade 10 history is a completely different student you see today. I don’t need to be told what and how to learn, I have my own ideas, passions and goals for my education. Since beginning this process I have had the opportunity to be able to share my story of how I learned to unlearn with other educators. While speaking to them more often than not I am asked “What about the days you don’t do any work?” I respond with not everyday can be a great day, there are days I am motivated and others where I can’t bring myself to do any work, but it is the exact same if I were to be in a regular classroom. You could give a worksheet and if it’s a day where I’m unmotivated odds are that worksheet is going in my bag and won’t see the light of day until the end of year when I clean out my bag. There have been so many ups and downs and I’m grateful for every up and every down as it has allowed me to grow as a person and only better myself. I think one of the biggest challenges for everyone is not giving up. It’s so easy to quit when things don’t go your way, to give in to the people who want to see you fail. Fail 8 times, get up 9. We are a great group of individuals; each motivated to accomplish a variety of different goals and Mrs. Chambers has been there the entire time, guiding us and shaping us to be successful.  (RM)

 
Summative Task Part II – Social Science Fair

In the second part of the summative task students are asked to come up with a conversation piece that represents their journey throughout the semester that they will present at a drop in style Social Science Fair.  The class invited prominent people from the community, our board, parents and pretty much anyone who would listen to them. The guidelines are fairly open but it is suggested that they incorporate the Exit Outcomes, their inquiries / research, course content, genius hour and class activities – ultimately anything they would like to showcase and explain to anyone who comes to see them.  The only mandatory rule is that they are NOT allowed to do anything traditional like a poster or a powerpoint. We have done this for the last year and half and it has been amazing.

While an exam is a good way to see what students know about a course, I truly believe that giving the students a place to reflect and showcase their learning is of equal importance if not more than an exam.   It allows them to connect with the community, it is a place for students to have a voice and be heard, to share their passions, to share their failures and successes, to get a chance to explain something more than once so that get it right, to engage in meaningful conversations and finally to network.  At our first Social Science Fair one of my students was offered a summer position with the local councilor and another was approached to do some work in social media.

Here are few things that the students had to say about it:

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I think it was really cool to be able to show adults that teenagers are more than just lazy and that when we’re actually interested in something we will come up with amazing ideas.

The fair was awesome! I talked to a lot of people and informed a lot of people about what we learned and how we incorporated the exit outcomes. My favourite part was seeing everybody else’s summative and seeing my peers interacts with others. I learned that there are a lot of people who care about what high school children have to say.

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I really enjoyed it, it was an eye-opening experience none like anything I’ve ever been to before. My favourite part was seeing how interested some guests were in what I had to say. I learnt a lot, it made me better at communicated my ideas since I received feedback and gots lot of practice.

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I really enjoyed the Inquiry fair. I thought that everyone did a good job, lots of cool projects. My favourite part was when I got to meet the mayor and talked to him about my school. But I’d say my favourite part was when I got a job offer with Jan Harder. I was talking to her about my plans next year going into urban planning and she told me that she was the chair of the planning committee for the city of Ottawa. She gave me her contact information and told me that she could probably get me a job next summer in the planning department at the city of Ottawa.

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I think that it went really well, at first it was a little difficult to really communicate what I wanted to say but then after a few attempts and practice rounds it went well. Something that I found was that people were actually interested in what I had to say which really surprised me a lot! Once I started talking, people were getting really excited and engaged about what I had to say and they were really interested in what I learned. I think that my favorite part of the social science fair is the fact that I was able to showcase all that I have learned and the things that I have gotten out of this course into one big project and the fact that I could share it with the community instead of just our classroom and some random people on social media. I thought it was a good way to learn how to communicate your ideas and thoughts out in an interesting and innovative way that will engage people in the community.

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I was super nervous about having to talk to people, and show my summative to all these adults (especially Jim Watson). I think it was because I think of ALL adults as my superiors and they’re smarter, and what if I mess up, and look stupid. (STRESS) But once I started talking it got a lot easier and It just flowed . But overall I actually enjoyed myself more than I thought I would. I think I could say that I learned that putting yourself out there a little bit is always hard, but it’s gratifying as well, because people were very impressed with my work and gave me a lot of compliments (which was nice). I also learned not to stress out as much because even if you make mistakes people are understanding and it’s not the end of the world (even when you mess up your words in front of the mayor). The people that came and listened really seemed genuinely interested in my summative and asked some really good questions, and I enjoyed looking at other peoples projects.
Thanks for unlearning with us 🙂

 

R

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