Assessing work-life skills in the classroom

Assessing Work-Life Skills

WHAT’S THE ISSUE? There’s a lot of talk in education about planning lessons with activities where students can develop their group work skills…but there’s very little talk about how we can go about assessing these work-life skills. Alexandre Hryszkiewicz is an IT Specialist, Leadership expert, and a Lecturer at Lille Catholic University in France. He argues that our assessment practices in education need to change in order prepare our students for life after school in a more meaningful. In this interview you will learn: 

1) how a university lecturer changed the nature of his assessment in order to move his students’ focus from competition to collaboration.

2) a practical example of how a teacher can assess their students’ effort to get out of their comfort zone, which is a crucial work-life skill.

3) a practical example of how a teacher can assess their students’ group work skills.   


ELENI VARDAKI: Alex has been a lecturer at the University of Lille Catholique in France for 8 years now.


He likes to search for new ways of training and assessing work life skills such as soft skills.


It’s great to have you here, Alex. Welcome.


ALEXANDRE HRYSZKIEWICZ: Thanks for having me. It’s a pleasure.


ELENI VARDAKI: So why does it even matter that we reflect on our assessment practices as teachers?


What if someone’s in that position where they are saying:


“Well, our kids are going to great universities. They achieve their goals. They go where they want to go, and they challenge themselves and they get a lot out of the assessment system, as it is. So why bother thinking about how we could change it, and how we could improve it, when everything seems to be going well?”


ALEXANDRE HRYSZKIEWICZ: Well when I started teaching, I was very frustrated, because my students were not so interested in what they could learn or what they could take out of my course. They were more interested in how they will be assessed, the points that they could get and the mark that they would get at the end.


And I was questioning myself on how I could make them focus more on how they could take something out of my course.


I think first we have to understand them because world system (or at least in France – I will speak for what I know), in France, it’s based on the marks. And earlier on in the school in the Elementary School, everything is based on that – whether they will pass for the next year, or not. Even the parents they ask: “Which mark did you get? Is it a good mark, or not?”


So the world system is based on that number, and sometimes I think it’s too much.


And we have students, as we all know, that they learn everything by heart for the exam. They passed their exams to have good marks, and then the next day they forget everything.


And I think that’s not why they should go to the university. They should go to the university to learn things, to learn skills, to get a better life and to be happier and to masters some skills.


So I have been thinking about this issue, and I try to come up, at least in my classroom, with new ways of assessing to make them more focused at what they could learn, and if they learn these things.


ELENI VARDAKI: Let me ask you something, Alex.


So what if a teacher is thinking: “Well we already have a lot of innovative teaching, which teaches work-life skills, so we don’t need to change our assessment system to also focus on developing soft skills and work life skills.”


What would you say to that?


ALEXANDRE HRYSZKIEWICZ: I have been in some groups, you know, thinking about innovative teaching. And for some of them I was struck that people are already thinking about how to transmit the knowledge, but not how to assess it.


And you could transmit the knowledge in a different way, but at the end if the only goal for the student still is not to learn it but it’s just to get the good mark, then it’s a bit pointless.


And of course it’s a part of the system you have to think about it, but it’s like an employee.


You know already that an employee coming to the office just for the salary – he’s not the best employee you could get.


You prefer a passionate employee who is an engaged employee that will work, and it’s fulfilling for him, because it makes sense. 


This kind of employee would be more productive. 


So I think this is the same for the students. The mark for them could be the only thing and the most important thing.


So we have to include it in the equation of innovative learning.


I think that it’s important.



ELENI VARDAKI: I am trying to understand what would this kind of assessment looks like that helps develop work life skills and soft skills and communication skills in cooperation, rather than just assessing more academic skills.


ALEXANDRE HRYSZKIEWICZ: So in the course of leadership that I give at the university, they usually have 2 marks. One of them is about a project that they have to do, and this project is going out of their comfort zone. And what I tell them for this one, I tell them, “If you do it, if you do the project and you go out of your comfort zone and then do a presentation about it, you already have half of the mark”. 


So it’s a way to tell them that the mark is not so important. What’s important is what you do.


And it’s also a way to leave the stress out of it.


Because they know that if they do it, they already have secured 10 of 20 points for the mark.


And then the second thing I do is the day of the presentation, they present, and then I give 6 points to each of the classroom member to distribute to their colleagues, and they have to do it publicly.


It’s always a nice experience, because they know each other better than I do.


So they know more about the people, and if the student really had a struggle to get out of their comfort zone they know better than me.


So they can distribute the points to the students that they think deserves it the most.


Or if a student helps them, they can also distribute the point.


So it’s a way to collaborate and it’s a way also to give out the points in a more meaningful way.


I took this method from Jurgen Apello who is the one that invented the Management 3.0 Method, which is really interesting and very innovative.


And it talks about this method call Merit Money in this Management 3.0. And Merit Money is giving a bit of this money to the colleagues and the workers, and they have to distribute this money publicly to their colleagues based on everything they want, but usually it’s because they help them or because you know someone is struggling and things like that.


ELENI VARDAKI: While you were sharing that example, it gave me this thought that, you know, now-a-days there is a big focus on teacher training, when someone comes into the school to say “We have to make sure that the students are spending more time talking in class, more discussion. Less teacher talk. More students talk.” But what you are saying is taking it to a whole other level. You are saying “We want students to actually discuss what would be a fear recognition of effort among each other and achievement”.


So discussion and assessment goes hand-in-hand, instead of it being something that happens before the assessments takes place?


ALEXANDRE HRYSZKIEWICZ: Yes, and that’s also the whole thinking about the reverse classroom, you know, this methodology that you ask your students to create their own exams, and stuff like that.


So I want to involve them, and I also want not to be the authority and to decide based on what I would decide that is the better grade for this one or this one. 


So I want to involve them and make them participate, and I think it’s more meaningful for them.


And also they will feel great when they see their friends giving them points, and acknowledging of what they have done to get out of their comfort zone.


I think it feels even greater than me, than it’s coming from me.


ELENI VARDAKI: Basically, it also increases their sense of recognition and achievement, rather than when it’s a traditional assessment, where everyone starts to compete and compare and be like, “What grade did you get? What grade did you get?”, type of thing, afterwards where it’s more of a pecking order kind of thing.





ALEXANDRE HRYSZKIEWICZ: The second assessment that I do it’s a multiple choice questionnaire.


But the thing is you can’t having a good mark at it if you don’t collaborate.


So I want to reverse the traditional exam because in the traditional exam talking is cheating right, but in this exam you’ll have to cheat to be able to achieve a good mark.


So they have all – everything is possible they can go out of the classroom during the exams, they can talk to each other and they can look at the internet and everything. But they have limited time to do the assessment which is a very short time, and they have to define a strategy before and to collaborate and to be able to answer all of the questions and answer all of the questions right, and that’s the second mark of this leadership model.


ELENI VARDAKI: It sounds like you are developing a certain type of leadership, an emotionally intelligent type of leadership, where it requires communication skills and it requires working together as a team.


ALEXANDRE HRYSZKIEWICZ: Yes, Emotional Intelligence is one of the modules that I teach during this leadership curriculum. So yes, it’s also a way to assess not directly by the knowledge, but by the doing. If they’re capable to use that in the real situation.


I also try with these kind of assessment to model what it’s done in the companies’ enterprises.


Because in the company you know you have a deadline, and you have to be able to take all of the resources that you have to be able to complete this deadline this project with all of your colleagues. So you have to collaborate and you have to focus on what is the most important. And you have to talk to each other and you have to respect the deadline.


Because you know in some big companies they have this platform when you submit your offer, and if you don’t submit on time then you lost the market.


ELENI VARDAKI: I get it. So there is a lot going on. First of all, it’s like a simulation of the real world, so that they get a sense of that. It’s helping bridge that gap between mainstream education where, for example, sometimes in the school there might be more flexibility and people will be like, “Okay, we will extend the deadline”.


But the real world isn’t like that. You need to be reliable people expect you to be reliable and to deliver and to meet deadlines and to respect that.


So this really helps to put this value of respecting a deadline into the spotlight, and also in a way where you are working together with others, which is also more of reflection of the real world than traditional assessments.


ALEXANDRE HRYSZKIEWICZ: Yes, I try to model and to make an assessment which is more like real life which is not the case of course, but the fundamental rule of the exams that doing your assessment alone, and not talking to anybody else and to compete with each other at the end, I really wanted to change that. 




And it also got me thinking as a classroom teacher what can I do to start bringing in more meaningful assessments with my students.


Is there anything else you would like to add before we wrap up?


ALEXANDRE HRYSZKIEWICZ: You are welcome. I would like to add that teaching is fantastic, when you see especially your students evolving and be able to do new things, it’s really fulfilling that’s why I do it, personally. I think we should share the best practices and always think about the best way to do it and the new ways to do it. And I am really happy that you are organizing this Summit to help people change their ideas, and spread the new things about it, so thank you for that.


ELENI VARDAKI: My pleasure.


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