There is a fantastic discussion on the nature of assessment and learning happening on Will Richardson's blog right now. You should go there and read through the comments. I am re-posting mine here:
To build on Gary’s earlier suggestion that we think about the role of assessment in terms of learning that occurs outside school settings I think it might help even to think about it in the context of other species. Take my dogs for example. Aside from formal training experiences I have observed two distinctly different types of learning experiences they engage in on their own. One involves learning by cause and effect and the other involves discovery.
An example of cause and effect learning is problem solving. This type of learning is fueled heavily by a motivation to attain a result. For example, for most of the day my dogs have free reign of the back yard but at night I lock them in the garage. My shepard-husky mix, who is our most hyper dog and arguably the best problem solver, doesn’t like this kind of confinement and constantly works to find ways to get out. The results of both her failed and successful attempts to open the dog door (or break it open) are forms of feedback and through this trial and error she engages in self-assessment until she has learned what she needs to satisfy the desire that motivates her.
The other type, discovery learning, has no motivational force and also lacks assessment. An example of my dogs learning through discovery is one day my newfoundland discovered, while digging a hole in my yard, that the soil below was cool. When he was a pup, and even a young adult dog, he rarely engaged in digging behaviors but through discovery he learned this was an effective way to keep cool outside on hot days. No one taught him to do this, it was not motivation that led him to dig (if I remember right he was digging because I forgot to trim his nails), and there was no assessment in the form of trail and error. I suppose you could argue that his discovery that the ground was cool was a form of feedback but it certainly was not assessment. And, how do I know he learned that the ground under the top layer of soil was cool? He only digs on hot days and he always sits in his holes. He has one this for ten years (he is 15 years old).
I also engaged in an interesting discussion tonight on Twitter. Here are a few bits an pieces of what I added to that conversation:
How do you self-assess the learning you do on Twitter?
@jerridkruse what about learning that results from events of discovery? Learning occurs w/o goals. Does assessment need 2b in this equation?
@shareski can you give an example of when it is not an instrument of control?
@jonbecker to self assess one has to have an external model (curriculum), or perceived model, to use as a rubric.
I am still waiting for an example from Dean. I am curious what your thoughts are on this. Is assessment necessary?