Book By Laura Greenstein
Review by Leila Chavez Soliman
“Not everything that counts can be counted and not everything that can be counted counts.” Einstein’s wisdom rings true for educators grappling with the challenge of equipping students with 21st century skills. These skills are too difficult to measure and pinpoint, yet they seriously matter now more than ever. In her book, Greenstein shares her observation that most of the change in education has focused on what and how to teach, instead of how to assess it. She urges educators to add assessment to the formula as the driver, which she believes “guides a response” to evaluating learning (p. 2).
For those debating whether or not to read or purchase the book, see page xiv and read Figure P.1. Here the author juxtaposes what the book is and is not about. For one, the book is intended to spark change based on best ideas from acclaimed experts in education. However, the book is not meant to replace the current system of education nor its current practices. It is about assessing for (not of) learning, with emphasis on small-scale, day-to-day classroom assessment as opposed to large-scale, radical reform.
The secondary level is the focus because it “is more feasible and realistic to expand on [its] building blocks to include higher-level thinking, metacognition [thinking about how one thinks], media literacy, and global awareness” (p.14). As such, the book is replete with tools and resources for secondary-level teachers and students. There are lesson plan templates, student assessment templates, charts, diagrams, rubrics, checklists, and appendices. In particular, the Q&A in Appendix C helps to clarify the need for ways to assess 21st century skills.
The author presents a compelling case, laying a strong foundation in the early chapters for the next. The first half of the core content of the book offers an introduction to learning paradigms; fundamentals of assessment; and a three-group model of 21st century skills: thinking, acting, and living (Chapter 1 through 4). The other half discusses strategies and recommendations for assessing these skills (Chapters 5-8). The reflection questions throughout the book seem to reinforce the topic, prompting the reader to “assess” and process the content—dense as it is with knowledge and ideas—one chunk at a time.
Although the book is not intended for higher education or academic advisors, it has implications on those accountable for preparing students for college and beyond. The concept of academic advising, as NACADA (2012) defines, includes “anticipating the needs of 21st century students, academic advisors, and institutions”. This provokes the questions: What do we need to sustain student engagement and success from secondary to postsecondary? How can we assist with bridging knowledge and application for working and living successfully in a rapidly changing world? How do we assess academic advising?
Those who teach/advise lead by example through learning as well as assessing for learning. If we maintain that student learning outcomes and lifelong learning are a shared responsibility among educators, administrators, and learners at all levels, then we need to learn to collaborate all the more. We can begin with continuing our own education and professional development to respond to the challenges the times present, particularly to align teaching/advising, learning, and assessment. Reading about the topic is a smart way to start, including this book and more.
Assessing 21st Century Skills: A guide to evaluating mastery and authentic learning (2012).
Book by Laura Greenstein. Review by Leila Chavez Soliman. 264 pp. Corwin, 2455 Teller Road, Thousand Oaks, CA 91320. 800-233-9936. $39.95 (paperback). ISBN 978-1-452218-01-4