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  • Writer's pictureConvening Storytelling Team

New Legacies + Adjacent Possibilities: Jigsawing Prototypes

According to popular science author and media theorist Steven Johnson, the “adjacent possible” is a space at “the edges of the present state of things, a map of all the ways in which the present can reinvent itself.” It is a space of emergence because the path to reinvention is unpredictable and often counterintuitive. Johnson writes: “innovative environments are better at helping people explore the adjacent possible, because they expose a wide and diverse sample of spare parts... and they encourage novel ways of recombining those parts.”  

Aurora, Colorado, host of Assessment for Learning January 2024, is an ‘adjacent possible’ for its neighbor Denver. It is also an innovative environment because it has had to be for the people that live in the city. As home to Colorado’s most diverse population, it would not be inappropriate to think of Aurora in terms of its definition as an electrical phenomenon caused by the interaction of charged particles from the sun with the upper atmosphere. 

Aurora is an adjacent possible because it is accessible and its electricity powers imagination and experimentation in people who have migrated from all over the country and the world. The result is a unique creativity and innovation that results in even more adjacent possibles. 

It is no surprise then that Aurora is home to New Legacy Charter School which is an adjacent possible for the education system and its assessment practices. Assessment is often the most divisive force in schools in the student-teacher relationships that are at the center of learning. As an adjacent possible, New Legacy’s competency-based approach to assessment offers rich insight into how we might recombine different parts of our assessment tools to make them more accurate and effective for young people who are more complex than the measures we try apply to them.


As a competency-based high school for a student population that includes teen parents, New Legacy approaches assessment in more holistic contexts with a genuine focus on personalization around student contexts. Learning from the New Legacy model as an adjacent possible, we might reframe assessment as an ongoing dialogue about student growth with daily opportunities for learning and improvement at personalized scale. We might embrace the idea that if teachers really believe in student growth potential, they suspend judgment and help students navigate the tensions between traditional social expectations and the realities of their worlds. 

As an adjacent possible, New Legacy inspired the following assessment prototypes that will hopefully serve as a starting point for schools to reinvent their assessment tools.

LOOPBACK – a prototype

LoopBack is an iterative feedback protocol that promotes self-awareness, active listening, and continuous improvement for participants. It can be applied in both professional and personal contexts to facilitate constructive dialogue. It is a tool to surface and reduce the tensions that can prevent individuals and communities from developing the awareness or taking the actions that will help them fulfill their potential in the world. 

Instructions for LoopBack

❏ Setup: This protocol can be adapted and used in different configurations based on the number of participants. In all cases, organize seating to create a space for open dialogue and observation. For larger groups, seating can be organized in concentric circles as in a fishbowl activity or it could simply be two participants sitting together side-by-side. The protocol should always be conducted in a structured, supportive environment.

Ideally, a LoopBack session will include a participant who receives feedback, a participant who makes observations, and a participant who takes notes and facilitates the protocol. 

❏ Define the Topic: The feedback recipient or the facilitator should clearly state the topic for the LoopBack session. The topic could be to improve communication or resolve conflict or enhance self-awareness. Whatever the topic is, it should not be the individual but rather the work or behavior of the individual. This is important for facilitators to manage. Observations may be either positive or constructive but they must always be honest and shared with love.

❏ Generate Awareness: Ask participant(s) to begin their dialogue with focus on making observations about the topic of the session as related to the recipient(s) of the feedback. Observations should be aligned with the following four categories of knowing:

•  what is known to self and to others   •  what is known to others but not to self

•  what is known to self but not to others   •  what is neither known to self nor to others 

❏ Awareness: After observations have been made, the group should pause before the participant(s) receiving feedback respond to what was shared. Responses should be organized using categories of knowing and could follow this structure:

•  The observation about _____ makes it clear that all of us know _____.

•  Based on what I have heard so far, what I did not know about myself is _____.

•  Based on what you have observed, something you should know about me is _____.

•  Something that may still be unknown to all of us is _____.

Once the feedback recipient(s) have shared their responses, all participants can join the dialogue and expand on key insights. Participants should seek clarity to create a foundation for ongoing self-reflection, feedback, and growth. 

❏ Action: Based on the insights gained from the dialogue, the feedback recipient(s) can identify specific actions and strategies for improvement. It is important to remember that improvement here will likely resemble evolution in that it will be a process of gradual change over successive generations of feedback loops.

Conclude LoopBack sessions with gratitude and a check-in. Revisit LoopBack as needed.

LoopBack draws from the concept of looping in active listening, the RESCHOOL Design Lab, and the Johari Window framework.



Paul Kim


During his career, Paul Kim has taught everything from kindergarten to college, receiving both teaching and coaching honors along the way. A decade ago, Paul transformed his classroom using design thinking to make it a place of inquiry, agency, and creative thinking. He currently researches and writes about innovative learning models and also works as a consultant.

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