1 Department of Education - Learning, Danish School of Education, Arts, Aarhus University2 Danish School of Education - Pædagogisk Psykologi, Emdrup, Danish School of Education, Arts, Aarhus University3 Danish School of Education - Pædagogisk Psykologi, Emdrup, Danish School of Education, Arts, Aarhus University
In this presentation, I will describe dialectical processes in self-assessment. Dialectical processes are means to understand how subjects both live their life under certain conditions and at the same time change these conditions. The theoretical foundation is critical psychology which has developed its sense of dialectics from a Hegelian and Marxist philosophical tradition rooted in a critique of the Cartesian framework (Bernstein, 1971).Over the past decade, evaluation has become a big issue in the debate of the Danish school system. It is now required that teachers assess their pupils’ learning abilities. The practice of evaluation and assessment is very complex, and is often described as involving both social control and individual development (Borgnakke, 1996, Dahler-Larsen 2006). From the theoretical perspective of critical psychology, I will describe dialectical processes in self-assessment. Self-assessment is defined by the fact that the subject assesses his or her own product; the pupil assesses his or her own skills by different methods, e.g. portfolio, log book, self-assessment questionnaires or evaluation-conversations. The explicated intention is to involve pupils in their own processes of learning and thereby to make the learning outcome more efficient. Self-assessment is one way to make the pupils responsible for their own learning processes although the aim with the learning outcome is defined for them. Thereby self-assessment merely could be understood as social control in disguise. This could be extracted from the following example about a girl in fourth grade (about 10 years old), who was doing well in school, but did not have any new goals for the next term. Her teacher then suggested a goal and the girl accepted it. When I interviewed the teacher afterwards, she said: “It can’t be right that she doesn’t have a goal. We can always set up a goal for something. That’s how I see it. And when the girl says “I don’t have a goal” because she thinks that everything is going on really well [..] Then I talk with her and say “When you don’t think that you have any goal, couldn’t we say that you should participate more in science?” And mostly they agree, so it’s kind of putting words in their mouth, but they agree [..]”. The teacher is who is acting under certain conditions. She is conditioned by the legislative standardized learning outcomes, and she wants her pupils to do well. Nevertheless, the example shows the teacher as imputing the girl certain aims which the girl had little influence on. As the example above indicates, the teacher then becomes a regulator of the pupil’s self-assessment. Teachers tend to act as regulators in situations where the pupil makes a self-assessment that does not fit the teacher’s understanding of the pupil’s abilities . Does this mean that self-assessment is nothing but hidden social control of the pupils’ learning processes in order to make them more efficient? From a dialectical perspective, such a view will never fully capture the complexity of the subject’s learning potential. Critical psychology mentions the subject’s ‘double possibility’: The subject can either live under certain conditions (and still be an active subject that make the most of its opportunities under the present circumstances ) or extend his or her conditions. This implies further complexity and is therefore useful when we try to understand what happens in practice. Furthermore it is important to stress that subjects’ abilities cannot be understood individually, but as participants in social communities. In critical psychology, the concept of participation implicates that the subject is always taking part in something with other subjects, and that both the community constitute the context of action and thereby each other’s range of opportunities. Participation is a concept developed in order to grasp dialectical relations. The following is an example from my data: A boy in the fourth grade (about 10 years) has completed a self-assessment questionnaire. He was asked how well he was doing in Math, in English and so on. He responded with ‘ok’ and ‘not so good’. At the bottom of the questionnaire he added ‘swimming class’ and responded ‘very good’ to that. This example demonstrates that the subject is not fully determined by their conditions, and that the subject can change conditions and make small displacements which, it is very important to investigate. This demonstrate the dialectic relation between subjects and conditions. There is no one-sided relationship between conditions and subjects. Subjects can through active participation in communities, transform the conditions. It is important to emphasize that this cannot be done alone. The success of the boys’ extension of the questionnaire depends on how the teacher responded to this change of the questionnaire. In this case, the teacher reported that she would add ‘swimming class’ to the questionnaire in the future. In this manner the boy expanded the local self-assessment practice and he changed the teacher’s view of him (she thought of the boy as more competent afterwards). Participation in self-assessment In a critical psychological understanding, the subject acts with their conditions, reproduce them and change them. The fact that subjects act with their conditions (Højholt, 2005) explains how conditions can be transgressed and that subjects can do surprising things to their conditions. The concept of ‘participation’ grasps lived life in and across various contexts. To understand the subject as a participant in different contexts means to understand the subject as someone who is talking part in the context from his or her position. The individual is a member of social contexts of action (Dreier, 2002, p.63). The concept of ‘participation’ points to the subject’s functioning and development in situated social practice. Different things are at stake in different contexts, and the subject does not participate in the same way across contexts (Dreier, 1999 p. 78-79). This approach also demonstrates how subjects are often committed to other activities than those dictated by the context. Subjects are not always committed to competition and right and wrong, even though the situation is structured in that manner (Dreier, 1999 p. 80). 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