Reconciling convergence and divergence

How do you reconcile…

principles of standards-based grading; “begin with the end in mind and work backwards;” understanding by design; and other more convergent learning ideas


project-, problem-, challenge-, and/or inquiry-based learning; creativity; innovation; collaboration; and our need for more divergent thinkers?

Yesterday was the final day of our Next Generation Leadership Institute, an initiative of the University of Kentucky College of Education’s P20 Innovation Lab. This was the big question I asked groups throughout the day.

How do (or would) you reconcile these potentially-conflicting concepts? How should schools navigate the tension between convergence and divergence?

7 Responses to “Reconciling convergence and divergence”

  1. good question…where are the PBL people??
    I would think that you design a project to hit standards, but with the divergence, a student might not hit everyone that you had hoped…hence your question.

  2. One approach would be be think about the characteristics of a final, authentic, and interesting project and look at how the standards fit into that…i.e. start with an interesting idea, not a standard.

    A good model is performance-based approaches to teaching Shakespeare. Students have to block and enact a short scene. Students are given some scaffolding, and some criteria (movements, gestures in performance and a prompt book as an artifact). A teacher looks at this authentic activity and connects it to standards.

    Now the activity was chosen because there was a general sense that this real-life activity was educationally worthwhile and engaging for student and (hopefully) would address standards. Then the standards are correlated as best and and broadly as then can be.

    My experience is that when you start with a focus on the standards, the activities seem forced and artificial. There needs to be a dynamic relationship–engaging and authentic activities need to be the start.

    This has worked for me as a classroom teacher and as a teacher educator.

  3. In a divergent classroom, what about more frequent formative assessment as a way to track progress toward the convergent (desired) end?

    • Dave,
      Your description has been the model in my own classroom this year. Last summer I read Marzano’s “Formative Assessment & Standards-Based Grading,” it was revolutionary in terms of the way I grade. I have been trying formative assessment and standards based grading all year, and I have to say, I will never go back. In my mind formative assessment and standards based grading allow the best of both convergence and divergence.

  4. The Driving Question in a PBL setting should be open-ended and allow for divergent thinking but require students to “need to know” the standards and content that you’re after. That way you’re not covering standards and content, you’re (or they’re) uncovering it.

  5. Scott,
    This was the question I was left with at the end of my masters oral comps several years ago. I will be observing this comment thread with an eager eye!

  6. I mean, SBG is just a way to assess and feedback (or generate grades if you must.) I don’t think it always begins with end in mind, actually. Certainly the standards-based approach is all about heading towards specific outcomes, but those goals could easily be entirely individualized and created spontaneously through the course of inquiry.

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