By Gary Chapin
Writer, Educating for Good
Our Theory of Action
A Theory of Action is a predictive if-then statement. Anytime you’re trying to make change you’ve got an if-then statement, whether you recognize it or not. When you put on a sweater, you are hypothesizing, “If I put on this sweater, then I will be comfortably warm.”
The Assessment for Learning Project is like a sweater in that it also is encompassed by a theory of action. The theory of action tells you what you hope to see happen (then) and what you’re going to do to make it happen (if).
The ALP 2.0 theory of action is still simmering on the stove, but it’s coming together nicely enough to take a taste and offer comment.
Here’s our goal: “We will use scaling of AFL to transform public schooling into an equity enacting system of learning.” A lot to delve into! We are going to transform public schooling, not merely reform it. We are no longer tinkering towards Utopia. We are going to make it into a new thing: an equity enacting system of learning. We aspire to being an anti-racist and anti-colonialist org. We will do this by scaling ALP, but we’ll be scaling it in new ways (some of which haven’t been devised, yet). As I pointed out in a piece, Control, Innovation, and Scale in Our Public School System, our traditional model of scaling initiatives is problematic. We’ll be thinking hard about this.
The four corners of the Theory of Action show how we are proposing to get to the goal. Spoiler: it’s not a straight line. One of the ALP mindsets is recognizing the complexity and mutuality of all aspects of our system. Rather than a path leading to a single destination, think of it as throwing irons in the fire, or, for sports fans, flooding the zone. Think of it as an ALP inundation. We propose to:
Deeply understand and become fluent with ALP practices (and mindsets). ALP is a new way of doing learning, a new way of thinking about it, and a new way of envisioning what kids ought to be. Relationships are realigned and deepened. Conversations become different. BELONGING is a primary value. Every conversation carries with it the possibility of opening a rabbit hole for you to dive down.
Learn how to use ALP practices to promote academic learning while validating identity and expanding belonging and agency of individual learners. This reflects the fact that, on one level, ALP is a massive R&D program. We are ambitious in our reach, but the thinking and the doing go hand in hand. In Tucson we’ll spend time talking in the passionate abstract, and time on the ground (or, rather, in the schools). Having an idea that doesn’t influence practice is functionally the same thing as having no idea at all.
Learn how to use ALP principles of practice to bring groups of individuals into equity-seeking learning communities. This IS EXACTLY WHAT WE’RE DOING IN TUCSON IN FEBRUARY! WE’RE EXCITED AND … OKAY, I’LL STOP YELLING! Academic priorities don’t unfold alongside issues of identity, belonging, agency, and equity; all of these things are deeply and profoundly connected. Seriously, though, you should come to Tucson.
Support/sponsor/participate in co-created redesign of local and state assessment and accountability policies. The elephant in the classroom. Sometimes I find myself thinking of ALP as a form of civil disobedience. This is a reasonable way to think, but it won’t get the job done. We have to think at the accountability policy level, where the inequities of the status quo are baked into the bread.
I wasn’t kidding about this document being in process. Any thoughts, comments, or questions you might have are welcome.