Within my ten years of working with the IB curriculum ‘Student-Action’ has always been central to my practice, a ‘golden chalice’ at the centre of all learning. Not only to me but to many of my colleagues and administration a like. There has been so much discussion and importance placed on the idea of ‘student-action’ with, I fear, many of us not fully understanding its full implications or importance. I myself have been more than guilty of playing my part in creating myths and misconceptions in regards to student-action.
Unfortunately, to often than not, ‘student-action’ has been something very much teacher or school prescribed with little or no input from the students. In may cases it has been the teacher that has come up with the idea and then presented to the children. Once the children accept and adopt the idea it is then wrapped up and parcelled as ‘student-action’. We seemed to have lost sight in the idea of authentic student-action, something that does occur but then again may not.
To the school community when any form of ‘Action’ occurs, or even better documented, it is a demonstration of success for the school and to the programme. Due to its importance ‘Action’ is something that has needed to happen and so must be considered and planned for. Teacher’s, including myself, would plan their inquiries with ‘Action’ as its end goal without considering the importance of ‘authentic’ or even ‘student-initiated’. Very often I have seen pre-planned allocation for ‘Action’ as part of Summative Assessment tasks. ‘Action’ that would be taken to demonstrate the success of an inquiry and then be forgotten when they begin their next.
I have even worked within schools in which the implementation of Action has been so high that it has been insisted that each grade ‘must’ be seen to be responsible for some form of ‘Action’ throughout the year. Yearly Overviews have been constructed with planned Actions for each grade penciled in at the beginning of the year before a student has even stepped foot through the door. Not only is this form of ‘Action’ premeditated it is very much meaningless to the students. I believe that this kind of thinking forces the issue of ‘Action’ in an unnatural way. It constructs group collaboration within year groups without taking into consideration the importance of individual and personal action that occurs almost on a daily basis within our class. More often than not it is the individual and personal actions that happen within a child that have the most meaning.
I have noticed that we have a tendency to miss or disregard ‘student-action’ if it is individual or personal. We seem to be waiting for the kind of ‘student-action’ that will change the world, something big and something very important. While these kinds of Actions are very nice it makes us forget and miss the small actions that are taking place within our classrooms on a daily basis.
It may seem that I place little importance in student-action at all but quite the contrary. I have come to believe that authentic student-action is possibly the only way to fully assess student understanding. No matter what the curriculum contents I believe we can never have a comprehensive assessment of student understanding unless they demonstrate in an authentic ‘real-life’ context.
For example, I could be teaching my Early Years class to be able to count 10 objects. Within the timeframe of my teaching my formative assessments show that a child can be successful in counting 10 objects but how can I be really sure that they understand? It is when they transfer this knowledge to a ‘real-life’ situation that I can fully assess their understanding. Next day, if I were to observe the child in role-play counting 10 oranges to give to his friend then I know that they not only understand but are able to transfer this knowledge to ‘real-life’ situations. Is this not an example of authentic student-action?
These kinds of demonstration of learning are visible in my classroom on an almost daily basis. It is these little demonstrations of knowledge that provide my assessment for understanding. Only this week I was witness a new child in my class asking ‘Will you be my friend?’ to another. It may be a coincidence that we have been having many discussions about being a good friend and making friends. We sometimes forget that Action may come in the form of personal change and does not always have to be through the planting of trees or cleaning our rivers. It may be as simple as making a friend.
Student initiated action does not have to be a change in the world but a change in the child. Taking action by using their learning in real-life situations. This is what authentic student action looks like and it cannot be planned for it has to come from the child. So to all those that worry that action is not happening in the classroom just take the time to observe and listen. It has to be the students voice, choice and ownership that shines through.