Think It, Build It, Fly It, Fix It

By Myron Dueck

I would imagine that nearly everything that has ever been designed to fly has crashed…it seems unavoidable.  Predictably, crashes are more prevalent in the design phase of a contraption compared to when the device has been modified, adjusted and inevitably (or hopefully) proven.

It has been suggested that the Wright brothers made as may as 1000 glider attempts in a two-month span in 1902 and averaged at least a few crashes each week. After gaining glider success and experience they added an engine and on December 17, 1903, at Kity Hawk, North Carolina, the first controlled powered flight was made.  We celebrate their invention, but seldom do we talk about the crashes. After their historic flight they continued to design better planes that flew longer and higher. When these planes crashed, sometimes spectacularly, they retuned to the design table and made improvements. Had early aircraft pioneers been unwilling to crash, we would never be flying today. The process for designing things to fly is similar to a notion that we have taken on in our high school. It goes something like this:

Think it

Build it

Fly it

Fix it

Had the Wrights been content to walk, drive, ride or cycle we would not be accustomed to including them in a conversation around innovation and flight. The fact is, they were not content to dwell on the ground and take the established modes of travel. Instead they took to embarking on the first step of airplane design:  think it.  Next they built it and then proceeded to fly it. Only after taking to the air, or at least making an attempt at it, did they know how to fix it.

My session on Implementing Innovative and Effective Assessment Strategies is going to highlight much of my own think it, build it, fly it, fix it journey. I have come to embrace the notion that it is ok to design something, try it in the classroom and adjust it based on feedback. In 2006 I attended the ATI Grading conference and I was challenged by Stiggins, O’Connor,  Chappuis and others to think of ways that assessment could be more effective, accurate and personal. Upon my return to the classroom I set about building unit plans, personalized retesting systems and designing grading policy that made sense. Seven years later I have experiences to share about my flight, my crashes and my fixes.

My ‘7-year flight plan’ has resulted in three glaring conclusions:

  1. Trying something new is one of the best experiences for both the educator and the students. With the simple assurance that ‘you can always go back to what you did before’ the teacher can step forward with confidence that assessment theory and practice is proven.
  1. Struggling learners have the most to gain from changing grading and assessment routines. Furthermore, as Doug Reeves points out, what works for struggling learners works for all learners.
  1. Using a formative approach to formative assessments is an effective strategy. When building effective assessment and grading tools, start simple, be purposeful and adjust to the feedback. By asking students, especially those who struggle, what works and what does not the teacher will design a grading system that is incredibly accurate.

In my other session, I Want to Embrace Creativity and Innovation…but how do I assess them? I will endevor to argue that effective grading and assessment practices compliment the latest push for creativity and innovation in the classroom. Teachers want to move towards new and exciting delivery methods, but for many the missing link is in the area of assessment. Once we know how to measure learning in different ways, schools can embark on a spirit of inquiry and divergent thinking, flight would never have occurred. I continue to suggest that teachers need to model the creative and investigative spirit that has characterized every explorative legacy.

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