Monday, December 13, 2010

Trying to Assess where Curriculum Fails

So here goes. Just a few things up front. I'm not an assessment specialist, I have great people who I can talk to in my school and in my PLN who had provided invaluable advice and guidance in my career. I'm also a realist andhave enjoyed throwing out complete programs in the middle of my schools year this year. The results of this purging have been pretty darn cool. One of them is our daily news.

Where I'm struggling right now is the assessment piece. I think I'd like to get into some kind of portfolio assessment for students to demonstrate their competencies, skills and mastery of the outcomes, but there are a few problems. The first step to making things better is admitting you have a problem, right?

Problem 1: The curriculum. Joe Bower would be proud. What really hampers my ability to assess effectively is often the thing that is supposed to guide me and my students. The Alberta Education curriculum for Audio-Video is so void of substance and real action verbs (thanks Deana!), which can be a great thing for a teacher or a terrible thing. Right now when my students are putting together a 4-7 minute daily newscast, the curriculum is not working for us.

Take for example AV Preproduction 1 (COM 2105). The main outcomes (the bold ones) are words like: describe, identify, consider, discuss. The only one that actually is an actionable item that could be considered higher on Bloom's taxonomy is "present and discuss a production plan". Fail.
And don't get me started on the outcomes that ask the student to demonstrate consistent and appropriate workstation routines, or demonstrate basic competencies like communicating, thinking, and solving problems!

Problem 2: Right or wrong, the CTS outcomes in Alberta are developed for the one stop shop idea where students can get in, get what they need and get out. This doesn't leave much for a program that I want to develop with the Television Arts. So many outcomes from multiple modules are overlapping as we create our news program.

Problem 3: Television Broadcasting is only 1 module in the curriculum and credits in the province are tied to hours of instruction. I can work with this, but I need to be creative. There are several other modules that students will get credits for at the same time as COM 3165- AV Broadcasting.

Problem 4- Where's the substance?
The outcomes in the AV Broadcasting module are pretty basic, and the students have actually achieved all of them within in the first week! We are working on direct feedback from students in other news programs, feedback from the web, myself and the student news team themselves. Where is the curricular guidance for students to look deeply at the craft and art of TV production? Where is the connection to the real world? This is where I have to do a great job of connecting it to those in the industry.

Problem 5- Diversity of Occupations
I have at least 10 different jobs in my newsroom. All have their own challenges and tasks each day. They each have a detailed job description to follow that they helped develop. Students have been given certain jobs for now based on their strengths that they have shown me before the news began. All students have the opportunity to change what they are working on if they ask, but how long do they really need to feel that they have demonstrated proficiency or mastery of an outcome? Some don't need to demonstrate mastery of certain outcomes to do their job. Do I need to have knowledge and be able to help students achieve an outcome in math? No, there are math specialists for that. The blanket, one size fits all concept of our curriculum has the same flaw that our current approach to teacher PD: it is limited in its effectiveness because it only serves a small percentage of the population. Deep thoughts...

Putting it all together.
This post has been all over the place. Thanks for sticking with it. The outcomes in Audio Video just don't cut it here in Alberta. They are delightfully insufficient, and vague and basic all at the same time. It's frustrating. Now I need to focus on what I really want students to learn and to demonstrate because I know our news is going above and beyond what the outcomes tell us in AV production in Alberta. (All of this is my own doing for changing things up halfway through the semester.:))

Part 2 Coming Up
This is the negative, teacher B.S. side of what goes on in my brain and keeps me awake at night. At the end of the semester I need to report a percentage grade for a process and learning by the students that I truly believe in my heart and my mind doesn't need to be communicated in that way. What does an 84% camera operator look like? How do we know that an anchor is a 58% anchor? This isn't important.

Part 2 of this look inside the news will look at what is awesome and authentic and engaging (buzzword!) and keeps students excited to be a part of producing our show each day!

Thanks! Any thoughts, ideas would be appreciated!


  1. You are living the reality that I am going to try to create in my Math classroom. I currently teach individual skills in isolation. Kids sometimes get it and sometimes do not. I want to move to project or problem based learning where my students tackle large problems and as a result of solving the problem they learn and demonstrate the curricular outcomes. However, finding or creating these large problems is proving difficult.

    I would love to run my classroom like the TV show MythBusters.

  2. Gloves are off in this post... but rightly so. I feel that you could at times replace Alberta with Ontario and it would still be pertinent. Good post and looking forward to part 2!

  3. Great post! Your thoughts on the difficulties of assessment are things i have encountered in my class (though i haven't sat down and thought through them as carefully as you). I love that you have moved towards a PBL model even though it makes it difficult to assess individual learning. It does provide a variety of roles to suit student strengths. My one thought is that if they had a chance to do a few of these projects they could be asked/required to take on a different role each time and you could assess their learning across multiple projects and roles. I'm not sure how you do that or what a suitable rubric would look like.

  4. Thanks for your post. You have a clear grasp of the issue, a gritty issue (which often provides the discomfort that precedes for growth), and enough assessment understanding to be a little bit dangerous! :)

    Problem #5 (Diversity of Occupations) got me thinking. I have run into this in group learning situations in CTS Leadership courses. I don't know if this suggestion will open up any solutions, but I'll pitch it for consideration.

    In addition to (or instead of) courses exclusively from the MDC cluster, are there applicable credit possibilities in the BIT cluster? Some roles within the newsroom learning context may be better suited to a CTS course listed in these occupational areas:
    1) Enterprise and Innovation:
    2) Management and Marketing:
    Some of the courses in these two areas have the same problem you describe in Problem #2--too basic. However, maybe something has a better fit.

    Aside from the curricular limitations you mention, it sounds like there are numerous elements of authenticity in the learning design. You seem to want to boost it from a simulation to a bona fide audience with industry knowledge. It's a worthy quest.

    It also sounds like you are at the stage of turning learner outcomes into clear criteria for an assessment tool like a rubric or scoring guide. I find this to be a tricky skill, one that is not addressed in very many professional learning situations or in many pre-service programs. Have you seen the Alberta Assessment Consortium's resource called "Building Better Rubrics"? It is accessible online if your school division is a member:

    As others have indicated, I look forward to Part 2.

  5. Great post. Am glad to watch you wade through this before I start my high school CTS classes next month.
    I have heard that the focus on CTS modules needing to take place over a minimum number of hours has been loosened, at least that makes it easier to combine modules.
    My big frustration with the changes to the outcomes is how they don't differentiate between audio and video. If my students have already earned a credit for COM1105: AUDIO/VIDEO in audio class, there isn't a basic module for them to use to explore video.

  6. Rhonda:

    I am started fresh in semester 2 with a full class creating our daily news program. I've decided on a path of 5 modules for the semester that they will acheive starting with COM 1005 and COM 1015, then COM 1055. They will then go do COM project A 1910 which will take outcomes from 1055 and 1005 to reinforce video. Finally they will do COM 2015.

    I've divided my News Production class into 3 levels.

    Level 1: COM 1005, 1015, 1055, 1910 and 2015 for this year
    Level 2: COM 2105, 2115, 2125, 2910 and 2155 (branding our news program)
    Level 3: COM 3005 (writing for news), 3105, 3115, 3125, 3165.

    all modules will be within the production of our daily news show. It's designed to give students a different focus in each year they will be in the 'newsroom'. By level 3 they will be working towards being the director or producer of the show.

    My approach to assessment will be shared soon in another post. I'm still trying to wrap my brain around it.