One of the books on my summer reading list has been Supertest: How the International Baccalaureate can strengthen our schools by J. Matthew and I. Hill (Open Court, 2006). The authors provide a good overview on the history and development of the IB program. I appreciated how they complemented each “international” chapter with implementation examples from the United States. As a high school student, I was enrolled in the first cohort of the IB program in the community where we lived, but a family move out of the area provided new and different learning opportunities for me. Nevertheless, reading the teacher and student anecdotes helped gain an appreciation of the IB experience in the classroom and what I might have experienced.
There was something special going on in these [IB] schools. The students were actually understanding (not regurgitating) and thinking analytically creatively. There was dialogue. There was disagreement. There were other points of view. … Teachers were not rewarding students with reassurance for conventional opinions. Rather, retreat from entrenched positions and careful reflection before complex issues gained respect. Global issues seemed to find their way almost effortlessly into the various subjects and made for rich discussion. Different cultural perspectives of the same historical event always led to consideration as to why people saw the event in dissimilar ways. p. xvi
Doesn’t this sound engaging?
IB teaches students to ask questions and to probe more and more deeply into a subject to get at its roots, and then to use that knowledge as the basis for interpretation, interpolation, and action. p. 197
Isn’t this equipping and empowering students for their future?
It sounds like vibrant learning in action.
Still, how is such learning assessed to know that students are learning from the experiences?
The IB program offered a very innovative approach to secondary education. It insisted on a broad range of assessment tools, including course work, written examinations, oral examinations, and practical assessments. The idea was to move away from regurgitated knowledge to a more critical, personal approach. p. 47
I found that this reaffirmed my vision for assessment in a vibrant learning environment, too; one that I am trying to implement in our new school. Good assessment practices need to provide important, and necessary, feedback on the learning that is taking place. However, it seems that far too many classrooms rely only on the written testing approach. I like to explore the variety of practical, alternative assessments that can help demonstrate the learning. Many Web 2.0 tools can help with this, and can further engage students in their learning. There is value to portfolios, presentations, student-led conferencing, etc.