From Chaos to Clarity

Michele Spiezia
Oct 6, 2018 · 5 min read

A massive mess on the floor of your kid’s room. Seven years of file boxes stacked up in your bedroom closet. Your kitchen junk drawer. The lit review for your research project.

What do all of these seemingly insurmountable tasks have in common? They are all examples of the ‘Random Array.’ The concept of the random array explains that first there’s a giant, chaotic mess of stuff and that slowly, step by step, we can work to organize this massive mess into incrementally smaller and smaller parts, ultimately creating order, organization, and in my case, and OCDr’s dream.

photo credit Kris Degioia on Twitter

But you see, the key to the random array is that it’s a process. There are many, small, incremental steps. Now, one might think that after years of arraying your particular fancy, bet it sorting legos by color or creating documentary films, you could start to skip steps, take bigger leaps. The Random Array, however, by its very nature, only works if you take every single necessary step, one after the other, methodically & mindfully. There are no hacks. No shortcuts. The elevator is broken — head for the stairwell.

So it is with my (ongoing) lit review for SET Lab. Before I even really began digging into the actual content, my desk and desktop were a flurry of notes, ideas, articles, and images. There were mind maps and multiple browser windows, highlighter coded legends, and lists — all methods to my madness in the quest to order my array.

some of my note taking!

The whole point of this explanation on the Random Array is mostly to illustrate my method, and partly to excuse my madness. It’s also another example of something Montessorians hold dear, and a concept I wish everyone knew about. It would help us make better sense of and enjoy our processes, and remind us that culling and curating is an essential human activity for understanding & creating, no matter the subject.

Culling and curating is an essential human activity for understanding & creating, no matter the subject.

So, as I continue to tackle this beast of a topic, this Medusa of myriad paths, I’d say I’m a few steps into organizing this array, and certainly still in the midst of more chaos than order. That my ideas, themes, and information are currently in intermediate size buckets, and that some still need to culled or combined, curated or cut. Below are a few of the buckets my research is currently collecting in, along with themes I’m seeing arise through the literature and my associated questions about them (in no particular order):

Assessments/Progress Reports
Clearly, in a research project centered on student reports, I’ve got to investigate the current landscape. What’s the history of assessment & progress reports in schools? What is the current conversation around best practices, and how are different philosophies/pedagogies tackling it? What are we assessing for and how, and how are we reporting/visualizing it?

Who are the stakeholders in assessment & reports — schools, parents, children? What is the relationship between student assessments/reports and these stakeholders — who are they for and who do they benefit?

Technology/EdTech
How has technology (and specifically edtech) set out to improve and disrupt assessments and reports? What are the advantages and disadvantages of employing technology? Are big data and the almighty algorithms helping or hurting? How do we maintain integrity and student wellbeing as a priority over profit?

21st Century Skills/Curriculum/Personalization/Entrepreneurship
What improvements and innovations in curriculum have initiated changes in assessment & reporting? How are qualitative skills being measured and reported? Which of these concepts will be evergreen and not simply a reflection of novel, buzzword, ‘what’s now’ culture? How are companies like Google & IBM driving change downward by evolving their hiring practices and management reviews to focus less on quantitative skills and grade reporting in general?

Culture/Privilege
While this topic isn’t something addressed directly in the literature, it’s a theme/question I’m consistently contemplating and will work to explore more. How much of this conversation around academic ‘performance and success’ in contrast to more qualitative/holistic skills is a specifically American concept? What’s the rest of the world doing? How much of this conversation is dependent on buying into the American system of education & career, often represented as a costly, unending rat race?

Also, who even gets the privilege to consider these improvements in curriculum and therefore by extension, assessment & reports? The literature thus far seems to uncover that the most progressive (and typically private, high cost schools) are the ones working on reframing what and how we assess and how to create a more holistic portrait of a student & their work (‘tracking’ them into highly regarded high schools and universities) while schools in lower socio-economic areas are left grasping for basic improvements in ‘success factors’ and academic proficiencies through standardized testing.

Future of Work
The more progressive education thinkers of our time are embracing an uncertain future, and working to understand and outline what values, mindsets, and abilities might be necessary to best adapt to it. They’re working to create best practices and outlines for an ever-evolving, rapidly changing world in which we don’t really know what ‘work’ will even come to mean. So, what happens when a college degree becomes less important or not important at all? Will that ever happen? With some companies like Google and IBM focused more on ‘ 21st-century skills’ and qualitative aspects of potential hires as better indicators for hiring than what diploma’s hanging on the wall, will there be a trickle down to the higher education admissions process? To the high school and even elementary school admissions process? Some places like Wayfinding Academy are already taking the brave steps to blaze a different path. I’m also interested in researching more case studies of homeschooled/unschooled/worldschooled students.

Is the focus on improving reports/transcripts to help institutions make better decisions about students, or for students to be empowered to know and understand themselves in the context of a changing world so they can make better decisions about their futures? Or both?

In my next post, I’ll unpack each of these themes more thoroughly and present the related literature. As a reminder, my research question is:

How can Holistic Student Reports improve student self-understanding and allow admissions teams (at the high school and university levels) to improve the selection process, ensuring better school choice and fit?

What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts, research sources or additional questions as I make my way on this journey! Be sure to follow me and leave a comment. Let’s chat!

#setlab #educationscientist #changebydesign #humanfirst #startwithwhy

SET Lab 2018 — Michele Spiezia

This publication includes my series of posts related to my research project as a SET Lab delegate in 2018.

Michele Spiezia

Written by

Process architect & people person. Human questioning everything. www.humanfirst.co

SET Lab 2018 — Michele Spiezia

This publication includes my series of posts related to my research project as a SET Lab delegate in 2018.

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