SBG Assessment – Cognitive Theoretical Underpinnings

We spent a very restful, week long vacation in Cambria, CA, during which I did not think about school at all. The day after we got back, I opened the Sunday paper and in the comic section I saw the following Doonesbury cartoon (this is a partial)


Zipper’s question, “What it means to be a student?” led me to think “What do I want my students to learn?” and more specifically (as far as this post is concerned), “What and how should I (re)assess learning?”  When Google or WolframAlpha can find answers in tenths of seconds, what should I assess and how should I do it in SBG?

Coincidentally, I am re-reading one of my favorite books on education: “Why Don’t Students Like School?” by cognitive psychologist Daniel T. Willingham. Willingham’s interest is in applying cognitive psychology to (mainly) K-12 education and he makes a point that “Factual knowledge must precede skill…facts without the skills to use them are of little value, [but it] is equally true that one cannot deploy thinking skills effectively without factual knowledge.”

Willingham transforms the question “Which knowledge should students be taught?” to “What knowledge yields the greatest cognitive benefit?” and for core subject matter courses (e.g. mathematics) he has a number of answers.

(1)   Teach the basic concepts and only then go on to critical thinking problems.

(2)   Factual knowledge must be meaningful – facts must be connected to each other.

(3)   One of the best ways to accumulate factual knowledge is reading.

These ideas open up a number of strategies for assessment and reassessment. I will discuss them in the next post.

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