3 Self-assessment and self-remediation

Driving down the road listening to the Anne of Green Gables soundtrack with my kids i found myself thinking about remediation in rhizomatic learning again. I have this problem in my classes… and it involves how to explain to people who have literacy gaps that they can go ahead and fill them on their own. I’ve been thinking about strategies for building remediation into my curriculum and then throwing them away as antithetical to the rhizomatic agenda (creating independent learners, preparing people for dealing with uncertainty blah blah blah) and then a term popped into my head ‘self-remediation’.

I don’t know quite why i like the term so much… as remediation still suggests that there IS a curriculum and to some might suggest that that curriculum is fixed and stagnant. I do know that some people seem to have a basic sense of what most people mean by words in a given context and others don’t. I can very well look around my classroom and see that some people ‘get it’ and other ‘don’t get it’. I have also noted that there is often not a perfect 1:1 relationship between people thinking they do and don’t get something and whether they actually do 🙂 So i’m basically trying to give people something they can work with… a strategy rather than content… that can get them ‘in the know’ so that they can participate in the community effectively.

A search of ‘self-remediation’ on the googles brought me to an excellent chapter by Janet Gale from a book Independent Learning in Higher Education (1984). Seems I have company in my thinking. In her tidy chapter she lays out five purposes for ‘self-assessment and self-remediation’ that while they are certainly grounded in a pre-internet world, still speak to fundamental concepts that are as important today as they were in 1984. I’m going to go through them and try to spin them my way…

  1. Overcoming isolation
  2. Gale refers particularly to the loneliness of the independent distance learner, but i would suggest that being ‘outside’ the conversation is lonely whether you are embodied or not. It is easy to forget when you are immersed in a field that many people not only lack an understanding of the meaning of particular words, they are excluded from the context. Addressing this feeling of loneliness as a natural part of the process and something that a person can do something about with focused effort might be just the thing that some students need.

  3. Active learning
  4. The text quoted in this section suggests that “Learning is maximized by an active information-processing strategy which requires the learner to respond to and at times reinterpret the information he or she is being provided with.” Imagine how much more important that is when he or she is being provided with a cagillion more pieces of information on the internet. It seems like a vital transition between passive textbook learning and active internety learning.

  5. Controlling learning behaviours
  6. This one is very interesting and speaks to behaviourist research in education which i mostly avoid. Gale refers to research that shows that testing and feedback mechanisms change the ways in which people choose to learn. And suggests that the critically important question of who’s objectives are to be achieved, the learners or the teacher’s. It is something that i continuously struggle with as a course needs some kind of structure if it is to be called a course, and if people are going to be able to pick one course from another… but ideally those objectives would lean more on the learner’s side than the teacher’s. The introduction of self-assessment and self-remediation strategies (and the way it is done) could further reinforce the idea of student control of learning behaviours and suggest a transfer of power from teacher to learner.

  7. Diagnosis and remediation
  8. I’ve spent more time, i think, on the idea of remediation than diagnosis. The author is very clear that these are separate acts. I think of this as a useful distinction as often discovering that you don’t understand what others seem to does not often coincide with the time required to remediate. Encouraging students to create a list of ‘things i don’t get’ and following it up with strategies of remediation would not only be useful for the learner but for the whole community of leaners.

  9. Student responsibility for learning
  10. And this, of course, is what i want in the first place. The chapter is bound by the possibilities of paper. Much of the discussion is of the challenges of creating pieces for self-assessment that doesn’t include prescripted options. We can, i think, allow people to go out on the internet unscripted and allow them to remediate those things that they have ‘diagnosed’ as something they don’t quite get.

In terms of strategies the discussion focuses on planning self-assessement questions and encouraging uptake. I think i would say, rather, encourage the writing of self-assessment strategies by the students. I’m thinking that this should be included in the syllabus as a structuring piece around student reflection… both reflections in the blog and reflection in their own learning plan.

Teaching students how to make good questions for themselves, to ask them in ways that are going to lead to effective searching and learning, is something that should be overtly done. Taking time to specifically say that people are allowed to look at their own knowing, plan their own path to catch up, and that this will allow them to participate more fully in the community.