Our guest post today is from a local teacher in our district, Jessica Hoyt. Jessica works for the Learning Initiatives department of our school district and is here to share about assessment practices.
The invitation to write this blog post has allowed me to reflect and crystalize my thinking after the Solution Tree Assessment NOW Conference that was held in Victoria last week. The keynote speakers included Ken O’Connor, Anne Davies, and Damian Cooper. So, first of all, a big thank you to Meaghan & Karley for this opportunity to unpack some of my thinking…after my brain has had some time mull over assessment in all its glory. Perhaps my musings will spark a connection or question for you in relation to this messy and integral process in teaching and learning, called assessment.
Maya Rudolph has perfectly captured what my face probably looked like when someone mentioned the A-word, assessment, during my early days of teaching. However, over time, through conversations, reading and research, trial and error, I have become more comfortable, actually excited, to discuss assessment practices in education. It is that something that I keep coming back to, it’s that thing niggling at the back of my mind; I reflect on how I can make it meaningful, purposeful and motivating for my students as well as informative and helpful for parents. Overall, I try my best to keep assessment as the driver of my planning and instruction.
At the conference, one of the presenters explained that the word assessment comes from a Latin word that means “to sit beside.” In essence, it is a conversation, an ongoing dialogue to communicate and help students along in their learning journey.
During the various presentations and breakout sessions there were some reaffirmations as to what I should keep doing in addition to some reminders as to what I should throw away, or stop doing in my practice. There were also some moments where the assessment clouds parted and I experienced new thinking.
Figure 1 Example of co-constructing criteria for group work and follow-up student reflections.
Co-constructing criteria: Students partake and uncover what makes powerful, quality work, using exemplars at the outset and then their own work as the unit of study unfolds. When quality is identified during the beginning stages of the learning journey, students can use the criteria to goal-set and then search for evidence of meeting goals and criteria in subsequent pieces of work. Students as self-assessors = huge impact on learning and achievement! Anne Davies’ examples of co-constructing criteria reminded me of the agency and importance of slowing down to involve students in the assessment process right from the very start. This way, the students have been actively engaged in constructing the criteria, in their language. They know specifically what to look for in their own work (instead of me simply handing out a rubric, which makes sense to my teacher brain, yet a key ingredient is missing – student voice). Keep kids in the driver’s seat by involving them in creating criteria.
- Performance Standards: use for baseline, mid year and end of year assessments as well as to communicate student learning along the way. Students need a clear picture of expectations and ways to increase proficiency (available for reading, writing, numeracy & social responsibility). I love these BC homegrown documents!
- If you give a student a mark and feedback, you are wasting your precious time. I always forget this one! Research shows that giving simply a mark has no impact on student achievement, but providing a mark and feedback also has NO IMPACT on student achievement. Why might this be? Once a mark is stamped on a piece of work, this is a signal to the student that the learning is over; however, I was reminded that if you provide feedback and NO MARK, this will boost learning gains by 30%. Thus, formative feedback, assessment for learning, is the best bang for our buck if we want our students to show increases in development and achievement over time; this ultimately leads to students feeling successful and therefore motivated. The following quote by Ken O’Connor resonated with me “Everything that is assessed and/or checked DOES NOT need a score AND not every score should be included in the grade.” In summary, the bulk of the learning is accompanied by ongoing, feedback (check out: Embedded Formative Assessment by Dylan Wiliam).
Figure 3 How can we ensure students are able to participate and engage in the task, at their current level of readiness?
Fair means equal: NOPE “Fair does not mean equal; yet, when it comes to grading, we insist that it does.” (Patterson, “Breaking out of Our Boxes,” Phi Delta Kappan (April 2003), p. 572).
Differentiated instruction is something I have been exploring and developing in my practice over the past six years. That being said, I’ve realized that I have some work to do when it comes to differentiating my assessment of learning. Damian Cooper’s Redefining Fair: How to Plan, Assess and Grad for Excellence in Mixed-Ability Classrooms seems as though it would be a good starting point for me to dig deeper into this issue that has niggling at the back of my mind since the conference. This leads me to my next point…
An aha! Parting of the assessment clouds
- Tiered instruction and assessments: Damian Cooper made an analogy to ski lessons that illustrated the importance of working with students at their current level of ability. He explained that prior to ski lessons at Whistler, three ski instructors were positioned at the bottom of a hill and asked the students to take five turns down the slope towards them. Based on this performance, students were then grouped into lessons that would push them to the next level of proficiency. Tiered instruction and assessments are similar to the skill lesson scenarios: “Tiring is a readiness-based instructional approach in which all students work with the same essential knowledge, understanding, and skills, but at different levels of difficulty based on their current proficiency with the ideas and skills. Tiering enables a student to work both with critical content and at an appropriate challenge level” (from Integrating Differentiated Instruction and Understanding by Design by Carol Ann Tomlinson and Jay McTighe).
Damian Cooper also described the importance of Lev Vygotsky’s “Zone of Proximal Development.” Our role as teachers, like the ski instructors, is to know what is it that the student can do on his/her own and to then push to the next level. Thus, this does not mean that the ski students who are going down the green runs stay there the entire lesson; it means that this is where they start and this level will allow the students to build essential skills and competencies alongside the
Figure 4 Similar to a run at the ski hill, students self-select their appropriate level of challenge
instructors so that when they feel ready, the students can choose the appropriate challenge on their own. (Very conveniently, the three levels of challenge in the graphic of tiered assessments shown above align with the ski metaphor with green, blue and black levels of challenge). I still have hard questions about designing learning and performance tasks that allow for varying degrees of challenge as I want all of my students to have an opportunity to achieve at the “black” level in various aspects or domains of learning; this is my new wondering that will need to be explored further.
Questions to ponder…
How might tweaking some of our assessment strategies change the culture from marks and grading to a culture of learning?
What is a question in relation to assessment that you are thinking deeply about right now? What are you trying and what are you noticing?