‘Start with the most difficult task’ they said

“Behavioral scientists have discovered that one of the most effective ways to create an enjoyable experience is to stack the painful parts of the experience early in the process. Psychologically, we prefer experiences that improve over time.”  

This productivity advice from Atomic Habits author and blogger James Clear is not just useful in hacking day to day life in a fast-paced VUCA world.

The advice is also useful when we are starting the transition to a program like the MYP.

Last time, we looked at being careful with parachuting in program bits without pondering the why.

Why this matters is because ideally, we would like ourselves to experience improvement over time, and figure out the hard parts. Maybe the figuring out the difficult parts first creates momentum to begin a transformation toward a new framework of principles and practices.

One of the hardest shifts into the MYP is assessment. Transitioning into a new system of assessment is made complex not by the technical tasks that a faculty faces but mostly by the adaptive work that each person and the group needs to undertake toward assessment in the IB context.

The difficult part is changing how we think about assessment.

So in the MYP, assessment is 

1. Not norm referenced, meaning we do not rank our students in comparison to each other

2. Not criterion-referenced, meaning they don’t need to perfect performance at the bottom level of the achievement criteria before they can attempt to achieve the next levels

This means that if a teacher knows and grew up in systems where first, Class rank was important and second, Instruction and assessment were based on mastery at lower levels of achievement criteria before they can perform at higher levels…there is a major shift in thinking toward the ways assessment is practiced in the MYP.

3. Another change might be that a mark from ‘averaging’ levels of achievement is not considered an accurate measure of performance in the MYP.

Instead, there is a process of comparison of performances of understanding against a set of criteria descriptors of success. Over time, the indicators of student achievement provide a narrative of what learners know, understand and can do over time until they demonstrate knowledge gained, understanding attained and skills proficiency level realised at the conclusion of an inquiry.

What performance occurred at the beginning of that inquiry is treated as information that feeds forward to improvement and learning rather than a score that is added to other scores to give an evaluation.

These three shifts in thinking about assessment are challenging. Perhaps pre-MYP practices like ranking, criterion-referencing and averaging scores were virtual habits in approaches to teaching.

The shift to MYP assessment gets more complex.

Here are some other aspects that make the transition into MYP assessment practices complex.

4. MYP assessments include the assessment of approaches to learning skills, and this is done by incorporating the learning process into the task design.

5. There is coherence between the summative task and the formative tasks in a unit. This coherence must be designed by the teacher.

6. The summative task is ideally an authentic task, a performance which allows for the manifestation of knowledge, understanding, skills and metacognition, framed in unfamiliar problems to address transfer.

7. There is a set of prescribed criteria for each subject group. As students progress through the program, assessment becomes more complex because more and more of the criterion strands are addressed in learning and assessment to create the complexity that manifests in the performance of many descriptors of success. This is why the culminating portfolio task in some MYP subject groups requires all strands to be addressed: because complexity in a performance is multifaceted and thorough.

And then there is how collaboration impacts assessment.

8. In a faculty new to the MYP, assessment criteria may have varying clarity and diverse interpretations. This poses problems if not addressed through moderation or standardisation of how criteria is used, interpreted, communicated and demonstrated through exemplars. We have to get together and examine student work, dialoging on interpretations of criteria and developing exemplars that guide teachers and students in using the criteria to set goals, monitor and modify performance during formative learning, and feedforward to improvement. 

A structure for dedicated collaborative time is necessary and non-negotiable for the school that wants a strong assessment system in their program. Collaborative norms, the ways we communicate, the ways we use cognitive conflict, the ways we focus our teams…these shifts in our ways of working are also part of the challenge of implementing a system of assessment that is different from what we knew in previous experiences.

And, we have to teach the community how assessment works. Especially the students, but also their parents, support staff like the marketing and reception crew who have to speak to incoming families and other interested parties about how we learn and assess at our school…

We could spend an entire year on assessment as a school and it would teach us so much about the MYP and how to thrive in it.

Teachers get better and better at designing inquiry that culminates in authentic performance involving transfer. 

This one essential understanding holds so much of the MYP in it:

  • Using conceptual frameworks as a basis for inquiry
  • Using context to frame teaching and learning
  • Synthesizing essential understanding into a statement (of inquiry)
  • Formulating questions and teaching learners to formulate effective questions
  • Deliberately developing approaches to learning skills through explicit and implicit teaching
  • Intentionally targeting learning around knowledge and understanding, process, thinking in disciplinary approaches, reflection and manifestations of discipline specific approaches to learning
  • Designing an authentic, open-ended task that allows students to demonstrate what they know, understand and can do
  • Using descriptive feedback to inform learning and improvement
  • Becoming attentive to accurate performances of understanding as a narrative of learner success rather than relying on the mechanical averaging of scores
  • Bringing students to becoming adaptive and reflective learners through the course of inquiries

Groups of teachers use collaboration and reflection to improve instruction, develop coherence and become attuned to performances as described through criteria.

This one behavioural shift in our teams allows for expressions of Standards and practices (March 2019) in MYP. For example, through collaborative dialog and standardising the use of criteria, groups of teachers can ensure this practice, Teachers standardise their assessment of student work to ensure reliable results in accordance with IB guidelines (0404-03-0121). 

As program coherence improves, what might become more visible is, “Students take ownership of their learning by setting challenging goals and pursuing personal inquiries” (0402-06, Standards and practices, March 2019).

The technical tasks of publishing an assessment policy, organising time to collaborate, giving everyone a copy of relevant documents, appointing a coordinator and many other actions that are easily taken to create the structure for the program are easy and can be expressed in a checklist.

The adaptive work of shifting our thinking, individuals and groups, toward new ways of approaching teaching and learning is difficult.

And if we can tame that difficult challenge by bringing ourselves and teams to understanding, the sense of collective efficacy might just launch our MYP onto the next strength.

International Baccalaureate. From principles into practice (2015).
International Baccalaureate. Standards and practices (March 2019).

Featured Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash

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    Author: alavina

    Cognitive CoachSM and professional development leader at large. Writer and editor at http://myptoolbox.com.

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