Objective criteria from personal knowledge

Posted on behalf of Tim Small:

While we are looking at criteria for assessment for our enquiry process, I wondered if you’d be interested in the framework I developed and presented in an article published in The Curriculum Journal last year, on Assessing Enquiry-based Learning.

These are the five criteria, with associated objectives:

The next figure sets out their relationship with ELLI Dimensions, values and the shifting of prime responsibility for evaluation, from ‘author’ (self) to assessors (others) as the process moves towards fulfilling its ‘communicative purpose’:

For a fuller explanation, please read the article – abstract below, and I’ll email anyone a copy who can’t access it online (subscriber access only).

I’d value your feedback on it – and/or these headlines!

Thank you!


Small, T. 2009. Assessing enquiry-based learning: developing objective criteria from personal knowledge, The Curriculum Journal, Vol. 20, No. 3, September 2009, 253-270. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09585170903195878

Abstract: This article takes as its starting point the idea that policies of ‘personalising learning’ and promoting ‘creativity’ raise issues for assessment which the present framework for assessment and testing in schools in England and Wales does little to address. It explores the notion, also touched on elsewhere in this issue, of a dichotomy that needs resolving between subjective (or ‘personal’) and objective (or ‘public’) concerns in the assessment of learning. Drawing on previous research using Rosenblatt’s transactional theory of response to literature, the article proposes a resolution based on the unifying concepts of a continuum between two poles and movement of the selective attention between them. Tracing this movement offers a ‘vantage point’ from which the ‘hidden’ or ‘inner’ values of a creative process can be glimpsed, which is likened to the dynamic self-assessment of learning power. Relating closely to Polanyi’s philosophy of personal or ‘tacit’ knowledge, the article argues that enquiry-based learning is essentially as creative an activity as composing or responding aesthetically to poetry. After constructing five principles from theoretical observations on the evaluation of creativity, the article goes on to develop a set of criteria and objectives, related to the values already discussed, which are offered as a framework to support self-assessment and joint assessment of enquiry-based learning.

Keywords: assessment; assessment criteria; creativity; enquiry-based learning; learning power; learning to learn; personalised learning; self-assessment; subjectivity; values and learning

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3 Responses to Objective criteria from personal knowledge

  1. markmoorhouse says:

    Hi Tim

    Glad you had a good holiday! An emailed copy of the article would be great.



  2. markmoorhouse says:

    Powerful stuff here Tim which is really interesting. Enjoyed the article very much, especially the introduction (for me) to Polanyi and “the free and responsible submission to the claims laid upon the inquirer by the truth he is seeking to discover”. Its a reminder that “How bothered/serious/engaged/honest are you?” are absolutely fundamental questions. Really like the five criteria also: Commitment, Movement, Control/Awareness, Coherence/Clarity and Consensus: a subtler and more flexible tracing of the actuality of learning than the road-map of the 8 steps perhaps, whilst I take the point that they can co-exist. I’ve slept on them and still feel ownership of the criteria the next morning which is a good sign. They make a lot of sense and smack of truth/authenticity/reality.

    Three further current thoughts:

    – If its going to walk in the world then this finely-wrought framework needs to get its feet dirty. How is it going to express itself? A grade, a number? Pass, Merit, Distinction? And what might the process be? A matrix of graduated statements? A continuum between polarised statements?

    – If we do pursue this framework then we might be better off hiding the Inherent Values column for now. We are in unsophisticated times with regard to educational policy and there is mileage here for those who would seize on the opportunity to suggest that we are attempting to assess love. There are plenty of daws around right now. Reframing this column in terms of social value might be interesting.

    – I’m worried that the suggested movement from personal to public assessment reinforces your initial premise of the polarity rather than the unity of the two concepts. Concurrent personal and public assessment surely is more desirable: a sharing of our initial experiences on Brandon Hill would have harnessed the value of the sounding board of others even at this most personal of phases and the maintenance of a strong personal responsibility for judging the effectiveness of later Coherence/Clarity work is vital. Interestingly, the very nature of EnquiryBlogger itself supports this fusion of the personal and public domains.

    Right, now be polite Tim and respond to my “Modest Proposal” in one of the threads above and let’s bash this whole thing out. Positive forces are unleashed by the connection of differing elements and I am excited at the thought of what Sanctuary and Street can unify to create. As Augustan and Oik united, who can stop us?!

    Keep up the fight.


  3. Martin Said says:

    I’m so sad that I missed the collaborative in Bristol as everything that I have seen seems to suggest it was a really powerful experience.

    I’m with you Mark on the importance of openess and the need to engage with the emotional/personal content of the enquiry and bridge the dichotmomous nature of personal/public throughout the entire process.

    As a way of knowing, experiential knowing is primarily rooted in being present and the emotions therein, and emotion comes before language, so i think it is really important that this is “made public” in the assessment event or any other assessments along the road for that matter. I think it was Ruth who said somewhere that who you are is a function of what you know.

    Also I have similar questions on the mechanics of the assessment of your five criteria Tim, is this done using rubrics and if so do you have examples of the language used in these? Or are the five criteria mapped against the ELLI dimensions as in your diagram, and does this then become the language used for the assessment.

    I think it would be impossible “on the streets” of the real world with 30 students in a class to assess every stage of the journey formally, but certainly common learning converstations could take place using a shared language, and what I intend to do in my next enquiries is to develop this language with the students almost in advance, by peronalising assessment opportunities using our existing language of the 5Rs.

    It would be great to know the mechanics of these assessment criteria has worked for you Tim.

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