Monday, May 7, 2012

Elementary my dear Watson

In the introduction to the PBS series, Sherlock last night the host described how Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was greatly influenced by Dr Bell while working as his clerk at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary in Scotland. Dr Joseph Bell's greatest asset, according to Doyle, was his ability to critically observe his patients and it was this singular trait that led Doyle to create in Sherlock Holmes one of the greatest  close observers of human kind who ever graced the pages of a good 'who-dunnit?'.

In a completely unrelated 'walk of life' the idea of observation has greatly affected the way I see teaching and learning ever since I read this wonderful book by Michael Armstrong. In it he describes how important it is to observe children as they go about their daily learning activities in the classroom. It is, he implies, the only way you can truly begin to understand whether children really understand and appreciate what they are learning or whether they are just going through the motions.

It's not enough, however to simply watch and listen. What makes being a teacher different is that we observe, or listen and watch, through a deeply developed lens comprising our understanding of the content we teach and the characteristics of child development. Observation in this context means making sense of everything we see and hear children do.

Observation is then the essence of assessment and reduces things like rubrics, tests and worksheets to mere tools that can be used to supplement the authentic and real assessments resulting from careful and systematic observation. The thing that makes for such a compelling connection between the observation skills ascribed to Sherlock Holmes and the observation skills described by Armstrong is that in one of the assessment strategies I use with my students I tell them to act like detectives, raising and testing hypotheses about what they think the student knows and understands based on their observations. I think Sir Arthur would approve. 

No comments:

Post a Comment