Global assessment starts at home
Wendi Pillars
March 15, 2017

In Old Norse, the word “heimr” represented both “world” and “home.” This word association predicted the nature of today’s vastly interconnected world, which requires its citizens to steward not only the earth, but each other. The complexities of this stewardship demand that teachers prepare their students to interact with the world and its various cultures in unprecedented ways.

The idea of “global competence” is so important that it will soon make its way into PISA (Program for International Student Assessment), an international standard for comparing education systems worldwide. The term has become ubiquitous, but what does it really mean? And how can it be assessed?

In an effort to measure students’ progress toward global competence, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has identified equity, cohesion and sustainability as three linchpins of global competence. Project Zero states that developing global competence requires “moving beyond the familiar to engage new ideas and experiences openly.” These aspirations have major implications for teacher training, student learning and measurements of each -- with educational standards no longer fixed at national borders.

Here’s what we need to embark on the path from theory to practice in providing globally competitive education for all students:

  1. School vision. Align school vision with elements from this interdisciplinary Global Education Survey, which is divided into themes of global issues, global culture and global connections. Start by creating a school vision statement that staff, students and community alike can remember. One recent Gallup poll shows that fewer than half of employees know what their company stands for and what sets it apart from its competitors. If no one knows or remembers your school’s vision statement, then chances are abysmal that it will guide school culture or be embodied in classroom practices, let alone achieved.

Your site-based global education strategic plan should heighten awareness of the human and natural world, differing norms and perspectives and the interconnections between the local and the more distant. Measurement will not be the same across all areas, so be mindful that proficiency in various global competencies will fluctuate according to context. Schools with embedded global themes, problem-based learning throughout the curriculum, devoted resources, and support will move more easily along the continuum. Those more advanced can use the rubric to assess growth in a new area or benchmark for future growth, while those just beginning can use it to gain consensus on strengths and priorities.

  1. Risk.  It is simultaneously challenging and humbling to peek outside classroom walls, but once you see yourselves and the work you do as part of a broader picture, you’re in for the longer haul. Flexibility and autonomy stem from assessing the value of your content within the broader picture, and ensuring students grasp how your content relates to their lives, their communities, and their future world.

For example, rather than writing a narrative to practice verb tenses, last year my students created individual videos that discussed their migration experiences (past tense), impacts of those experiences to date (present tense), and how teachers could optimize their experiences to catalyze better learning (future tense). Knowing their revelations would be used by pre-service and graduate school teachers to enhance their teaching and that the videos would be shown to their peers and community helped them understand that their voices matter, that they don’t need to wait to take action -- a key tenet of global thinking.

Reframe formative and summative classroom assessments using tools like Asia Society’s SAGE-advice, Veronica Boix Mansilla’s suggestions, or these detailed Global Competency Matrices. This practice will transform what you deem essential for students to walk away knowing -- and for students to be able to do with what they know.

  1. Honest assessment. It’s easy as pie to talk the talk of a global-ready school, but we’re not all there yet. Even those who come closest struggle, encountering Dan Pink’s asymptote of mastery -- as your abilities increase, so do your challenges and needs. Frustrating at times, yes, but the allure of the challenge can nurture your greatest work. This Global Model rubric from North Carolina is one tool that can help build deeper consensus around your global vision and goals.

Thinking globally demands that we do more than teach and assess our students; we must also work to advance a broader agenda of educational improvement. And that means the concept of “our classroom” also broadens to include the world at large. Jane Goodall said it best: “You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you’re going to make.”  As teachers, imagine the differences we can make by cultivating global competence. Then just imagine what differences our students, provided with a powerful global mindset, can -- and will -- make to ensure our world feels like home. 

Wendi Pillars, a National Board-certified teacher, has been teaching English language learners in grades K-12 for over 20 years, both stateside and overseas. She is the author of “Visual Notetaking for Educators: A Teacher’s Guide to Student Creativity,” a member of the Center for Teaching Quality Collaboratory, and a Global Classroom Fellow. She is focused on providing brain-changing and perspective-changing learning opportunities for language learners. Find her on Twitter @wendi322.

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