Prompt: Over the past few weeks, we have been discussing nature vs nurture, the basics of biological development and a few different perspectives on cognitive development. Please reflect and write about the big ideas that you have learned and the implications for classroom practice.
Recently I have been reflecting on how theories of cognitive development, through biological and environmental factors, have revolutionized my understanding of assessments and turning them into tools that my students can use for learning. As a student I have seen tests and grades as the stamp of value on my knowledge and the ultimate proof that I was succeeding in school. There were times I only performed for the sake of a test, cramming for a test and then forgetting everything afterwards just to get a good grade. Now as I become a teacher, these motivations make me uncomfortable, how can I ease the pressure that extrinsic scores and grades place on students? What are effective ways to encourage my future students to learn for intrinsic value?
Inherently in the process of learning, we engage in ‘trial and error’, testing our beliefs, knowledge, and hypotheses against new information that we discover or is presented to us. According to Piaget’s theory of developmental stages, this experience of “cognitive conflict” when confronted with contradicting views about the world leads us to modify our current cognitive structures to accommodate or create new ones (Pressley & McCormick, 2007, p. 69). This interaction of the mind adapting to inputs from our environments is how we learn. Testing is how we engage our knowledge, discover its validity, and change it.
In a sense, students are biologically wired to understand new information through testing. Sadly, in today’s classrooms, testing and assessments are more evaluative than constructive for students. We ask students to take what they know, apply it, and then—that’s it. We give a grade or a score and that becomes the false end of the testing process. We as teachers benefit by analyzing results to enrich our own teaching and lesson design but what about the students? What if some tests instead of ending with the score, allowed students to learn and also change as well?
In a classroom where certain tests or assignments could be corrected by students and turned in again, grades can be redeemed and students can benefit from reflecting on their own learning. In line with dialectical constructivism it would be important not to simply give students the correct answers when providing feedback, but allowing them time to struggle through incorrect answers, or even providing explanations to defend them, could lead to deeper understanding. Students may possibly even work together so that they may learn from their peers and not always the teacher. Aspects of discovery, questioning, and collaboration can work together to support students and help them to see the value of learning beyond a test.
Pressley, M. & McCormick, C.B. (2007). Child and adolescent development for educators. New York, NY: Guilford Press.