At home this summer we’ve been trying to keep some math and reading in the daily (weekly) routine – just so we don’t all forget how to subtract compound fractions.

I gave my daughter a hard-ish multiplication problem to do. One like this:

x   642

This problem gets messy quickly if you aren’t careful. There are three set of carries, numbers to keep in their columns. She made simple errors a couple of times (I pulled out my iPhone calculator to check her work…maybe not the best message, but she seemed not to notice), and was getting frustrated.

I wrote the problem out as three separate challenges, breaking the challenge down. Here’s one of the three:

x      6

Once she (quickly and successfully) completed the problems, I asked her to “put it all together like a sandwich.” She didn’t need any further instruction. She put the extra zeroes in the right places (she calls them ‘door knobs’) and assembled the correct answer. When she was finished she said, “you never told me I could do it that way!”

Hopefully it’s a decent lesson in synthesizing skills to create new approaches.

But it’s also a lesson for schools who are attempting to create authentic assessment efforts with meaningful faculty involvement.

There are many ways to approach assessment of critical thinking, written communication, research skills. But every one of these 21st Century skills comes back to rubrics and authentic tasks. The consensus is that we can’t test this knowledge into students.

With the school year coming, our conversations with clients and potential clients have picked up intensity. One school, who have worked with us for a year but are struggling to make progress, has a similar problem to my daughter. They’re trying to:

  • Design rubrics
  • Obtain faculty buy-in
  • Figure out what outcomes to assess, and in which courses
  • Decide whether to get faculty to “do assessment” or hire graduate students or pay a stipend to faculty
  • Collect student work in a variety of courses
  • Obtain buy-in from diverse academic programs around consistent approaches to the above

They’re trying to do everything at once, which can work for an institution that is firing on all cylinders. But when there is a weak “assessment committee” charged with “getting it done,” and associate deans are openly hostile to requests for involvement, it is necessary to break things down. To look for smaller successes. To lay out a plan, accomplishing necessary building blocks in a sequence. To put the whole thing together, later, in a big, beautiful sandwich.Dagwood Sandwich

Schools can flounder year after year before things click and they move forward. The ‘click’ can come from a galvanizing event, like an accreditation visit or a consultant, or new leadership, or exhaustion. Waypoint contributes to the click because we bring a framework for moving towards success. Waypoint is a collaboration platform for faculty to document their approaches to assessment, even if there isn’t yet much formal assessment happening.

The sandwich can (and probably should) be unique. I don’t like lobsters AND eggs in my sandwiches…It could even be a plain cheese sandwich to start. But there needs to be a start, and breaking things down is an easy way to build momentum and fire up the virtuous circle of authentic assessment.