TMC6 Gini-Newman

Powerful Instruction and Powerful Assessment: The Double-Helix of Learning 


by Garfield Gini-Newman and Laura Gini-Newman



This paper is an exploration of the potential of infusing assessment and instructional practices. The authors Garfield Gini-Newman and Laura Gini-Newman, name their approach the Double Helix of Learning. In their discussions they introduce the concept that, “Powerful assessment occurs at the intersection of three essential goals for learning - inspire learning, inform learning and sustain learning.” The authors share the application of ongoing assessment practices and the active participation of students in this process through strategies of sustained critical inquiry for deep learning.


Read the Paper



Garfield Gini-Newman. As a national senior consultant with The Critical Thinking Consortium (TC²) and associate professor at OISE/University of Toronto, Garfield has worked with thousands of teachers across grades and subjects. Previously he was a teacher and curriculum consultant and has led major projects exploring the use of digital technologies to enhance critical, creative and collaborative thinking. Garfield speaks across Canada and internationally, has authored seven textbooks and has taught in the faculties of education at York University and the University of British Columbia.



Laura Gini-Newman began consulting with TC² after a career as an economist, financial accountant, university instructor, consultant, coach, teacher, curriculum and textbook writer. She has taught economics, mathematics, philosophy, history and geography for over 20 years. She continues to support teachers across all subject areas around the world as a facilitator and writer for TC². With a strong passion and expertise in mathematics, Laura is consulting with TC² on the development of a conceptual framework with supporting resources for the implementation of critical thinking in the teaching and learning of mathematics.

15 comments:

  1. Did you know that Garfield Gini-Newman was a spotlight speaker at our very first TMC in Edmonton 2010? His paper From Transmission to Transformation: Re-framing Teaching and Learning for the 21st Century is in TMC Archives.
    We are so fortunate to welcome him back with his wife Laura to TMC6.

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  2. After reading this, I'm so pumped that Garfield and Laura are both coming to my school division on January 29th. His analogy - double-helix to instruction and assessment - is very powerful. I am glad he debuncts the idea that the goal of inquiry is reach the free inquiry stage. So many teachers think this, try it with their students, the students learn nothing more than surface knowledge so teachers abandon inquiry altogether. Garfield gives us a road may to engage our students in rich intellectual journeys where essential questions and provocations ignite students to want to learn more, and then deepen their thinking as what they learn changes their initial thinking. His iterative process using of productive reflections, cascading challenges and vertical spaces is something our math consultant has embraced. I want to bring this idea to our teacher-librarians and literacy leaders so they can work with other teachers using this pedagogy.
    My goal is to read and comment on a paper a day. I challenge all TMC participants to do the same.

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    1. Jo-Anne you're hard core! I'm trying to also survive my first season on the White Pine selection committee for the Ontario Library Association's Forest of Reading. My goal is to read all the papers before the conference too but I might need to squeeze them in between marking and young adult fiction!

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    2. From the paper:

      "Whether the inquiry is structured, controlled, guided, or free, the keys
      to deep learning are the quality of the inquiry and the effective use in intellectual tools that empower learning to draw reasoned conclusions based on what they uncover. Rather than considering the degree of independence, educators should differentiate inquiry by its intent and complexity. Is the inquiry an exercise in retrieval; a response requiring a critical thoughtful response; or is an opportunity to develop a rich response to a complex challenge."

      There are so many opportunities for increasing the quality of inquiry and the effective use of intellectual tools when teachers and teacher-librarians collaborate to plan, teach and assess in the embedded way this paper describes. "Through an iterative process of meaningful learning and reflection students develop open-mindedness, perseverance and a willingness to take risks as they see the value in productive setbacks."

      Fantastic and inspiring.

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    3. We are so glad to see that the ideas expressed in the paper resonate with so many. Shifting the nature of assessment and the relationship between the learner and the assessor can help to fully realize the power of effective assessment to empower students as true self-regulated learners.

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  3. The visual created to show the intersection between "inspire learning", "sustain learning" and "inform learning" as connected pieces for powerful assessments is something that all educators should spend time unpacking and discussing as they work through the inquiry process with their students and work to assess student learning based on the process of learning that has happened. I love when I read something and it takes my own beliefs about education and makes it all that much clearer for me. This paper will be one that I revisit a number of times in order to make sense of all my thoughts.

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    1. Beth, we are considering using the paper as a foundation from which to develop a book that can both expand on the ideas and share concrete tools and strategies for implementation. It would be great to collaborate with schools and organizations to develop and test the materials

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  4. Garfield and Laura - I am at a loss for words - which everyone who knows me will find shocking I assure you! I feel like you have captured every pedagogical debate about the value and purpose of the “Friday spelling test” approach to instruction I have ever had! As a teacher librarian I know that some of my classroom colleagues immediately devalue my “non-traditional” assessment suggestions as a clear sign I have been out of the classroom too long. Yet over and over again, students tell us that they are more and more stressed and less and less inspired by the assessments they experience.

    Through a board-level initiative I work with a colleague and our principal to engage student voice in our school community. The Just Ask student group identifies aspects of school life they would like to be different and engages in meaningful school wide dialogue to make that change a reality. Our first group of grade 7 and 8 students focused on student stress and assessment practices. I think it will be necessary to copy and paste the link below for you to see an overview of the program and the videos that summarize their incredible work. https://sites.google.com/pdsb.net/castle-oaks-library-learning-c/for-students-families/student-clubs-in-the-llc/just-ask

    Thank you for sharing this work with TMC - I have already passed it along to numerous colleagues and plan to return to it often. The term “powerful assessments” has been added to my internal word bank with much appreciation.

    Jenn Brown

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    1. Thanks for sharing the link to the Just Ask work you are involved in. It looks fabulous and gets to the heart of why we need to give a careful re-thinking to the role of assessment in learning.

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    2. Thanks for sharing your Just Ask initiative, Jenn. Love how well it exemplifies some of the ideas expressed by Gini-Newman in this paper. Having an over-arching provocation and challenge through this initiative, as well as such rich student voice will hopefully inspire teachers at your school to embrace this approach.

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  5. At the risk of mixing my metaphors by introducing a different analogy (and for the record, I love the idea of the double-helix here), there's so much to chew in this paper.

    I should have been prepared for such brain-filling content, as I just finished a two-part workshop with some TCTC presenters and it involved some rigorous thinking (and I recognized the term "reasoned judgements").

    If I was a more frequent sketchnoter, I'd illustrate some of those key ideas (i.e. that learning should be deep, meaningful, active and connected / powerful assessment inspires, sustains and informs learning / we should start with ideas and then continually affirm, revise and/or extend them) so that they could continually remind me about the how and why of what I do (or should do).

    As someone who was fed and consumed heartily from the Wiggins & McTighe backwards design model, this new way of planning, thinking and assessing is going to take some unlearning and relearning for me. I've got to ask myself some tough questions, like "does this assessment inspire learning?". I think I will need my PLN to help me digest this even more and see what it actually means in practice for me.

    Thanks for the delicious thoughts that will feed me for quite a while!

    Diana M

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  6. Diana, I've also had to abandon the backwards design model which I used quite extensively over the years. I have come to see that if you already have the end goal completely figured out, where is the opportunity for students to engage in thinking based on their needs and interests? I am starting to work more deeply exploring the use of essential questions and building into the essential question other questions that allow me to gage the changes in students thinking based on teaching and discoveries that are unfolding in the classroom.

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    1. Next invite students to create their own questions. When kids own the question they are engaged.

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  7. I really appreciated how the key learning goals outlined could be seen modelled so well in your description of inquiry learning and the sample provocations. I have never heard the term "cascading challenges" before as a way to scaffold learning. Thank you for the insight shared here.

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  8. A TL colleague of mine always emphasized "creative failure" as a critical part of inquiry - I like "productive setbacks" even better! Dianne O

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