Entering the grade 5/6 classroom in New Covenant School in Arlington, Massachusetts, you need to look very closely to spot the teacher. Actually, you may find yourself wondering if the students even require their teacher. The desks are arranged in a circle, a student is at the whiteboard scripting student responses to student questions, while Mr. Utter is discreetly supporting the learning process taking place. In Mr. Utter’s classroom, the students are empowered to be leaders of their own learning. Meanwhile, 3,200 miles west of New Covenant and across the border in Canada, the students in Mrs. Berkenpas’s grade 3 class at Surrey Christian School are nervous because they are about to start loading pounds of metal weights on their personally constructed popsicle bridges. Just before they begin the loading, the students take a moment and create their own learning target for the upcoming activity, endearingly: “I can control my emotions if my bridge fails.” What do these two student-empowered classes in different countries and on different coasts have in common? They are both living the concepts contained in Leaders of Their Own Learning: Transforming Schools through Student-Engaged Assessment.
This book is a representation of twenty years of assessment experience in Expeditionary Learning (EL) schools <elschools.org> and is EL’s first publication. As presented in the preface, “Expeditionary Learning is one of the nation’s (United States) leading K–12 education organizations committed to creating classrooms where teachers can fulfill their highest aspirations and where students can achieve more than they think possible” (xxi). While EL schools have identified five dimensions—curriculum, instruction, assessment, culture and character, leadership—that shape student achievement, they decided to focus their first book on student-engaged assessment because “these practices are the foundation for building a culture of engagement and achievement in any school. Student-engaged assessment develops student ownership of learning, which makes learning in any subject area, at any grade level, and in any kind of school richer, deeper, and more fulfilling” (xv).
At a very fundamental level, the practices outlined in Leaders of Their Own Learning are honoring to students, and perhaps more importantly, provide opportunities for students to practice being the creative image-reflectors of Christ. Utilizing the assessment practices of this book results in a learning environment where these image-bearers are invited to personalize and set direction for their own learning, empowered to be creative, and have their learning ultimately matter to the world (because it is real work that meets a real need and is intended for a real audience).