“Where on Earth did you come up with that list of Skills?”

I’ve now been asked (and ridiculed) by enough people about my selection of skills for my web-site peer assessment that I think it’s time to shed light on the origin. I seem to rub a lot of people the wrong way with my “About Me” section. Not only do people assume I’m conceited and arrogant, but also it appears they get in quite a lather over my selection of skills. So where did the idea germinate?


Well, I reasoned that a 21st Century School should be trying to prepare learners for a 21st Century workforce. Therefore, it might be a good idea to look at what 21st Century employers are looking for when they hire. After a short bit of Google research, I found a Forbes article that listed the top ten skills that employers identified for recruitment in 2013.


The article clarified that four skills were listed by 9 of 10 employers they surveyed as the most important skills for recruitment. These included: Active Listening, Complex Problem Solving, Judgement and Decision Making, and Critical Thinking.


That’s interesting. I would have thought things like communication, interpersonal, team building, as well as reading comprehension, and basic math would have made the top ten. So, I delved further into why these skills matter?


If you think about it, we spend our life exposed to new information. Much of this information is processed and disregarded. Sometimes, something resonates with us and we explore it further. As we learn and start to apply the knowledge we have gathered, we develop some measure of skill. This may apply equally to hobbies as well as job responsibilities. Please note that I consider the initial transfer of knowledge to be an essential part of this process: Whether its self-directed learning or apprenticeship with an expert.


So in a traditional educational model we are exposed to information that is neatly packaged into courses and units. Unfortunately, most of us discard the majority of this information because it is not contextual and does not apply directly to anything we are interested in. For instance, learning about prime numbers and memorizing them so that we may be assessed is a fine exercise in memorization, but completely useless for the majority of people. Unless perhaps you happen to be autistic in which case it may provide a lens on the world.


But the problem with this model is that we are really being trained to simply memorize and regurgitate. Having spent many formative years exposed to the IB curriculum and the concept of the ‘learner profile’, I have developed an understanding of how badly learning outcomes can be high-jacked in the name of outcome-based skills development. Not that learning outcomes are necessarily a bad thing, but they are often equally out of context with what employers are looking for. For example, lets look at the IB traits Principled, Open Minded, and Caring. These are not skills I would characterize as relevant on Wall Street. Let me rephrase, these learning outcomes would not survive on Wall Street.


On the other hand Active listening, Complex Problem Solving, Judgement and Decision Making, and Critical Thinking are all essential on Wall Street. But ironically, they are equally valuable to a carpenter on a construction site, an architect, engineer, surgeon, or a machinist on a factory floor. In other words, these skills have a universal appeal in the working world. They describe skills that would benefit virtually anyone.


Now the next question that people ask me about my site is why I created a peer assessment feedback form in the first place. Once again, I will go back to the traditional education model. My experience in an IB school is a pretty typical model of education. You have a teacher and students. This one-to-many relationship has existed for thousands of years. But there are differences between education in the 19th and 20th century and education that existed before. For most of our history children have learned by exploring their interests and learning via apprenticeship with an expert. Universal education or national education systems are a more recent invention.


The real problem is that teachers and students are human with all the requisite human failings. Some teachers simply don’t like certain students, and vice versa. Some students have difficulties learning and some teachers have difficulty teaching. But at the end of the day it is the teacher who assesses the student. Not peers, not a committee, but one individual. And I believe that is archaic and wrong. I’m sure everyone can remember some terrible teachers they had at school. I’ve had my own fair share. But we endure them like a cold sore knowing that eventually they will go away. Similarly, teachers have students that drive them bonkers, one step closer to stress leave. And this frequently unhealthy relationship is supposed to shape the minds of tomorrow…


So coming back to my argument here, I believe that teachers should be guides to enable students to learn from the best ‘mentors’ they can find. This is what I see as the principle success of 21st century learning. And while these teachers and mentors can provide feedback to the learner, the real assessment should be done at the peer level. What better reflection then the many people you work and interact with. While the opinion of a teacher or leader is important, it is still only one voice. And this is why I created a peer assessment process. Not to replace the teachers opinion, but rather to provide a alternate view of the individual.


Unfortunately, human nature is human nature, so there are still many things to consider:


1. Misuse – Are the people who are filling out the assessment taking it seriously?
2. Anonymity – Are the people who are participating guaranteed anonymity?
3. Archiving based on a period of time – Can the results be archived and improvement over time tracked?
4. Not understanding the criteria to evaluate – Are the people who are participating fully aware of the evaluation criteria?


When considering my peer assessment system, Jeff Hopkins, Head of School at PSII asked me about the apparent disparity between self-image and assessment. When we self assess ourselves it is from our own unique perspective. So how would people cope with others assessing them in a very different light than they see themselves? Is this a risk of peer assessment? I find this a fascinating point and would like to experiment with this and report on the results in another post.



But for now, I want to thank you for taking the time to review my perspective on peer assessment of my skills.


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