Searching for Vygotsky’s sweet spot.

How does authentic assessment challenge the relationship between skills content?

It’s no secret that planning quality curriculum is hard. It was hard when I worked within the 2D confines of the UK system and it’s even more challenging within the 4D spaces of the MYP. Skills, content, concepts and approaches to learning (ATL) all need to co-exist within a progressive curriculum that allows students to own their learning journey. We need units that allow collaboration but also enough space for students to grow as individual learners. So perhaps it’s not surprising that, as i’ve found on several occasions this year, this Vygotsky-esque sweet spot can be tricky to find.


However, locate it we should and as the end of the year looms large, our collaborative teaching teams start to think about completing a SWOT or 4D driven curriculum review; a vital process in ensuring that our programs continue to offer students quality learning opportunities. This year, my colleague Phil helped our department to develop a really useful approach to ensuring that what we teach contains the right balance between subject specific content and opportunities to develop those more transcendent ATL skills. It was decided that quality curriculum should include:

  1. Essential content
  2. Authentic assessment
  3. Learning-to-learn opportunities

These agreements were designed to ensure that we can deliver a more progressive learning experience with student ownership at the heart of everything we do. Sounds simple right? Well, in theory it is but as I think back on some of my units this year and ahead to how I want them to look during next, I’m well aware that I need to do more to genuinely embed these 3 elements in my curriculum. One strategy that I hope is going to help with this challenge is using the GRASPS mnemonic to support the inclusion of real-world learning opportunities.

In February this year, I attended an Inthinking workshop in Prague on developing authentic assessment in the MYP. One session that I really connected with centered on using the GRASPS acronym to facilitate a closer relationship between the 3 steps mentioned above. In the spirit of remixing and getting visual – I’ve put this together as a (very simple) tool that might help to catalyse the process of bringing together steps 2 and 3.


Although a useful way of opening up the planning process, I’m finding myself questioning the impact that authentic assessment is having on the relationship between skills and content. Colleagues in other faculties certainly feel that certain subjects lend themselves to this approach better than others and I have found myself re-evaluating the role exam specific skills and teaching should play within the MYP program. I am confident that this issue will remain as an outstanding challenge – for my digital design skills in the short term and my teaching beyond. Any tips or ideas gratefully received!


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