A Simple Idea That Just Might Revolutionize Education

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photo credit: ciro@tokyo via photopin cc
photo credit: ciro@tokyo via photopin cc

Despite his relative anonymity, James Pillans dramatically changed teaching and learning. Pillans, you see, invented the blackboard and colored chalk in 1801. 

If students can’t assess their own learning and understand what they have or have not mastered, this is a powerful problem that must be fixed.

More than 210 years later, teachers continue to use Pillans’ tools. Sure, most have gravitated away from chalk and slate to Interactive Whiteboards and tablet computers, but Pillans’ centuries-old invention is holding steady in classes worldwide.

What made Pillans’ idea so revolutionary was that it solved a huge problem in a remarkably simple way. Nineteenth century teachers needed a way to share information with students visually (some actually wrote on kids’ hands), and the blackboard gave birth to a new visual world for students.

If James Pillans could impact education for hundreds of years with a blackboard, isn’t it possible that another ridiculously simple idea can revolutionize education for the next two centuries?

Assessment 3.0

Following the Pillans model for change in the classroom, modern education needs a simple solution to a gigantic problem. How about assessment?

For as long as education has existed, teachers have assessed students by placing numbers, percentages and letters on their work. This system has been the norm for so long that it isn’t often questioned, but it continues to leave gaping holes in achievement and independent learning. Ask students what they’ve learned, or tell them to assess themselves, and most will respond with blank stares.

If students can’t assess their own learning and understand what they have or have not mastered, this is a powerful problem that must be fixed. The good news is this monumental issue can be rectified with James-Pillans-type simplicity.

Assessment 3.0 is today’s blackboard, and it can revolutionize teaching and learning. Best of all, it doesn’t require any inventions or manufacturing costs. Assessment 3.0 involves replacing traditional grades with conversation, self-evaluation and narrative feedback using SE2R or a similar model.

SE2R is James Pillans simple

SE2R feedback model

After many years of using traditional grading practices, I realized that my students needed more. “A” students were just good at manipulating an outdated system, and “F” students didn’t try, because they were convinced they couldn’t learn. What if we just talk about learning, I wondered.

So, I threw out numbers, percentages and letters and stopped grading anything and everything my students ever did. Instead, I provided SE2R feedback:

  • A one- or two-sentence Summary of what had been done.
  • An Explanation of what I observed that students had mastered, based on lessons and guidelines and what still needed to be accomplished.
  • When more learning needed to be demonstrated, I Redirected students to prior lessons and models.
  • I asked for reworked items to be Resubmitted for further assessment.

This is SE2R. It’s simple and can be used with any age in any class and delivered in a variety of ways, including through digital tools and social media. Best of all, SE2R creates conversation about learning.

It’s time for a revolution

James Pillans’ blackboard and chalk changed how teachers shared information. Isn’t it time for us to change how we assess what students learn? Numbers and letters are ineffective. Assessment 3.0, featuring SE2R narrative feedback, stimulates the kind of conversation that inspires independent learning and promotes better understanding of achievement.

Best of all, it’s ridiculously simple.

Available Now

Assessment 3.0: Throw Out Your Grade Book and Inspire Learning, by Mark Barnes, published by Corwin Press

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Mark Barnes is the Founder of Times 10 Publications, which produces the popular Hack Learning Series, The uNseries, and other books from some of education's most reputable teachers and leaders. Barnes presents internationally on assessment, connected education, and Hack Learning. Connect with @markbarnes19 on Twitter.

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