As we think about educational change, we must spend some time rethinking assessment in order to create assessment centered classrooms that foster learning rather than simply measure it. We must find ways to use assessment to help us teach for deeper understandings of essential questions and development of the ever changing skill set that today’s students need.
A search of assessment reveals many interesting definitions with a number of inherent differences that probably reflect institutional understanding and philosophy about assessment.
The Partnership for 21st Century Skills note that 21st Century Assessment
* Supports a balance of assessments, including high-quality standardized testing along with effective classroom formative and summative assessments
* Emphasizes useful feedback on student performance that is embedded into everyday learning
* Requires a balance of technology-enhanced, formative and summative assessments that measure student mastery of 21st century skills
* Enables development of portfolios of student work that demonstrate mastery of 21st century skills to educators and prospective employers
* Enables a balanced portfolio of measures to assess the educational system’s effectiveness at reaching high levels of student competency in 21st century skills
Assessment is too often equated with a test or final product and tends to measure content mastery over skills acquisition. Rubrics, if provided, focus on the final product and the extent to which it demonstrates understanding of concepts rather than assessing skill development and learning process. New tools provide us ample opportunities to view and participate in the process, to provide student feedback and assess student learning as it occurs. The above definition implies a shift to continuous examination of the learning process as it occurs, advocates feedback and formative assessment, promotes the use of portfolios, and acknowledges the need to assess 21st century skills. It is important to note that you can’t assess that which you do not understand so teachers must develop a deep understanding of emerging literacies in order to remain current and proficient in their profession.
A second definition of assessment is found on the University of Northern Iowa page which highlights the Higher Learning Commission’s definition of assessment.
“Assessment of student learning is a participatory, iterative process that:
* Provides data/information you need on your students’ learning
* Engages you and others in analyzing and using this data/information to confirm and improve teaching and learning
* Produces evidence that students are learning the outcomes you intended
* Guides you in making educational and institutional improvements
* Evaluates whether changes made improve/impact student learning, and documents the learning and your efforts.”
Notice the bias towards assessment as a means of evaluating not only student outcomes and performance but also the teacher’s methods. While using assessment to grade teachers and institutions may be common within the scope of standardized tests and NCLB mandates, is that same principle honestly and consistently applied in day to day learning. Shifting the focus of assessment from measuring student progress to measuring the effectiveness of instruction and instructional content would necessitate that faculty examine what and how they teach; that they teach for deeper understanding.
Examining the two assessment protocols above would mean that a poor assessment score should cause us to ask a probing series of questions that focus on the instruction, the entirety of the assessment process, and the relevancy or engagement factor of the content and skills that should have been taught.
* Was the student engaged during the learning process?
* Was the content relavant?
* Did the assessment tool allow for students to demonstrate 21st century skill mastery? (meaning the assignment itself was cognizant of 21st century literacies)
* Did the assessment process provide feedback that could be utilized during the learning process to ensure a satisfactory ending?
* Did the assessment truly measure student understandings of essential questions and skills?
* Can we move forward without a satisfactory student performance?
* Did the assessment double as a learning tool?
Bottom line for assessment, if the students don’t retain what was taught, it wasn’t taught AND if they didn’t really need it to grow and move forward (in other words, we can move on without ensuring they master the skills), was even worth teaching to begin with.
Wouldn’t it be a marvelous shift if assessment forced us to examine whether or not we are teaching what students need and want to learn instead of what we enjoy teaching; if we could get to a point where assessment really was a tool for growth - teacher’s, student’s and curriculum’s - instead of for high stakes testing accountability or transcript grades for college admissions. We need to really rethink assessment so that it supports learning and fosters a love of learning instead of being equated with ultimate accountability.
A logical place to start is by examining the role of formative assessment in your practice. In How People Learn, edited in part by John Bransford, formative assessment is described as:
Formative Assessments - ongoing assessments designed to make student’s thinking visible to both teachers and students- are essential. They permit the teacher to grasp the students’ preconceptions, understand where the students are in the “developmental corridor” from informal to formal thinking, and design instruction accordingly. In the assessment-centered classroom environment, formative assessments help both teachers and students monitor progress.
Another key component of a 21st century assessment package is portfolio assessment. A recent 2007 Becta study defined e-portfolios as
An e-portfolio is a purposeful selection of evidence by the learner at a point in time, with a particular audience in mind. It is part of a personal online space, where learners can store their work, record their achievements and access personal course timetables. This space can provide digital resources relevant to a learner’s own study (personalized information) and links to other learners (for collaboration and feedback). E-portfolios benefit learning most effectively when considered as part of a system, rather than as a discrete entity. The system should include online repositories, planning and communication tools, and opportunities for both students and teachers to draw out and present e-portfolios at particular times and for particular purposes.
The study’s findings are perhaps best understood by viewing the graph taken directly from the survey below. It shows that students found eportfolios to be a positive factor on learning.
The commonality that both formative and portfolio assessment bring to the assessment arena is their potential to be part of the learning process allowing for adjustments to be made in a timely manner and their potential to document the the skills that students are being taught. (We will rethink student content and skills tomorrow.) Monitoring the learning process gives the teacher an opportunity to see if a strategy or project is falling short of their intended goals and allows the teacher to make daily modifications of the learning plan. If teachers reflect on the body of student work found in the portfolios, they have an opportunity to identify skills that are lacking and to assess the successes and failures of the curriculum.
Enter technology in the assessment process. Below are several ways to use technology to engage in formative assessment and to produce potential elements for a portfolio that can be used to assess student, teacher, and curriculum.
Writing Essays or Research Papers
It’s a traditional assignment that still has a place in education today. What technology changes is the ability to provide feedback during the process, even before the final draft is done. Have students write their essay in google docs or zoho docs. Require them to invite you to the document. Use an RSS reader to monitor changes to student documents. When you see that work has been modified by a student, take a look at their changes and comment on their progress and the state of their work. Offering feedback during the process allows students to make corrections as they happen instead of producing subpar work that must then either be redone or worse, yet, becomes a forgotten negative grade as the next assignment begins and little, for that student at least, was learned. One could argue that only offering feedback at the conclusion of a learning opportunity actually allows a student to reinforce bad skills and process poor information rather that producing learning.
Solving Math Problems with Microsoft OneNote $(denotes use of tool that has associated cost)
Good old fashioned math problems have their place for today’s students as well. Ideally our math students are also working with real data and solving problems that have application to the student’s world as well and this activity can work for both scenarios. Students should work in groups to complete the math problems. One student in the group should set up a shared session in OneNote. All students and the teachers should then be invited to join the shared session. Students work collaboratively to solve the problems. Students can take turns doing tasks and can use the record audio feature to record an audio explanation of their thinking as well. When reviewing the material at a later date, students have the audio explanation with their math work. Teachers get to hear students thinking as they work through problems as well. Putting students in groups teaches them to collaborate and peer edit each other’s work.
Writing Lab Reports with Wikis
Lab Reports have always drawn criticism from teachers that one student in a lab group did all the work or that they really missed the boat on analyzing the data. Wikis afford an opportunity to eliminate both of those concerns while adding the teaching of collaboration. Students work in the traditional lab group to generate the lab report. The only change is the lab report is it is done on a wiki. The wiki allows the teacher to see exactly who did what part and when it was done. The wiki also offers students a discussion area to negotiate the lab results. Teachers can watch as the lab report is created and can also offer students feedback during the process using the discussion tab.
Lecturing with DyKnow$
Dyknow transforms the delivery of information during what many would call a lecture. Lectures are typically one way delivery of information to a captive audience. DyKnow changes that dynamic to a two way interaction between the teacher and each student while simultaneously providing opportunities for formative assessment. The teacher can deliver content, while forcing the student to stay lock on the teacher screen on their machine. What the teacher writes in the form of notes is transferred to the students screen freeing the student to concentrate on the concepts. During a lesson, the teacher can poll the students on their understanding and a graph of the class’s collective understanding is created on the teachers monitor indicating whether the class as a whole understands the material and it is safe to move forward. The data also allows the teacher to see if there are a few students who do not understand and might need extra help after class. DyKnow also includes a mechanism for allowing the teacher to quiz students on specific concepts in the form of multiple choice, Yes/No or True/False questions. In a DyKnow session the teacher can ask the students to write the main concepts from a lesson on their DyKnow page or to answer a final question that could be used to gauge student understanding. Dyknow then allows the teacher to collect the electronic panels, provide feedback, and return the panels to each student with the push of a button. Paper is not collected and exchanged making the process of both collecting assessment information and providing feedback efficient and timely.
Researching using Google Notebook
Teaching students to do quality research is always a demanding task and is increasingly more important as the glut of information available to them increases exponentially. Google Notebook with the Clip to Notebook add on and the collaboration capability make it a great choice for monitoring the note taking process during a research project. Students should set up a notebook and invite the teacher and the librarian to their notebook. Everything that they collect electronically, text and images, can be highlighted and when the student right clicks, they get an option to send to notebook. The highlighted information is deposited in the notebook along with a link to the website that it came from, a useful feature for stressing citation and intellectual property. Each entry can be moved within the notebook by simply dragging and dropping. Each entry also has a place for those sharing the notebook; student, teacher and librarian, to make comments. The comments from teacher and librarian can help guide the research process and provide a mechanism for providing feedback to the student during the research process. It provides a means for assessing the skill that is being taught while it is being taught.
Evaluating Websites using social bookmarks
The research process can be further augmented by the use of social bookmarks. Students can tag useful information for an individual or a group project using either diigo or delicious. Students can be told to use a specific tag that teachers can monitor using their RSS reader so the teacher knows when new sites have been added. Students can record information about the reliability of the site in the notes field that is provided to them when they tag or bookmark a site. Teachers can also add sites for students and can stop students from proceeding down a faulty path of research if they notice that the only sites being used are superficial in nature and are not going to provide significant depth to result in a meaningful project. The potentially disastrous project can be averted rather than simply scored poorly after the due date and amidst another unit of potentially unrelated content.
Cell Phone as Clicker
Using polleverywhere or smspoll, teachers can ask students for feedback on their understanding or on a specific content item and rapidly collect feedback from students. The cell phone can replace the student response systems.
Notetaking with OneNote $
While OneNote can be shared as in the Math example above, it can also be used to share note taking responsibilities or to allow the teacher a window into the notes that are being taken by a student. If I, as a teacher, notice that student A is not engaged in note taking, I can ask the student to start a shared OneNote session and to invite me at the beginning of class. Any time during class, I can see what notes have been taken and can add feedback to those notes. I can also choose to copy all of my teaching notes into the OneNote notebook for the student and simply ask the student to take marginal notes and highlight. I can also prepare a OneNote notebook for my students and share it with them. I can then ask them to concentrate on making marginal notes and highlighting key points. Research has shown that marginal note taking is one of the most beneficial note taking skills a student can have. Lastly, OneNote’s audio feature allows the student using it to record the audio at any time. If a concept is confusing, the student can record the teacher’s explanation. There are distance limitations for audio but it does offer some interesting possibilities.
Discussion with Ning
Ning provides teachers with a means of creating a social learning network for their classes. It contains modules for blogging, discussion, video, and audio sharing, RSS feeds and groups. Ning can be used in the classroom to continue discussions outside of class. Students can be asked at the end of class to ask students to respond to an article or some other written prompt or to simply discuss among themselves what the key concepts were and their understanding of those. Rather than giving a pre-test, teachers can put a well crafted question that is capable of elucidating student misconceptions on the Ning site and unveil those misconceptions before coming to class. The teacher can assess students prior knowledge and make an adjustment before starting class.
Presentations using Ustream.tv
Ustream.tv is typically used to broadcast and create an archived recording of anything a video camera can capture over the internet. It also possesses the ability to record without broadcasting; that’s where the power for assessment enters. Frequently teachers bemoan that students don’t do a good job presenting material. This is in part because students don’t get a chance to practice, the assignment doesn’t include explicit instruction about the presentation, and feedback on how to improve for future presentations comes after the fact and too far removed from the next presentation. Suppose the assignment is modified such that students are told to have visuals with a very tight limit on text and are required in teams to practice their presentation once to their partner. Now add the requirement that the practice session be recorded via ustream and ask the student to critique the recorded presentation and devise a strategy for improvement. The critique and suggestions for improvement can be entered on the comment field provided on ustream.tv. The technology allows for student self assessment on presentations and provides a venue for follow up feedback from the teacher and the student partner.
Self-reflection with technology
Blogs can be used to have students reflect on their own learning and develop their metacognitive acumen as the year progresses,
Integration of metacognitive instruction with discipline-based learning can enhance student achievement and develop in students the ability to learn independently. It should be consciously incorporated into curricula across disciplines and age levels. (How People Learn)
Students can use a blog interface as a learning reflective journal and chronical their thinking, sharing it with a larger audience or with just the teacher. Again, the teacher is provided a window into the developing thinking or the student and can certainly leave comments to encourage deeper thinking or further probing.
Closely related to an individual journal is the collective production of a class “scribe” blog. Students take turns scribing, chronically the key points of the daily lesson and even embedding notes from the lesson. All can add reflective comments or ask questions in the comment field. The blog becomes a journal of the learning in the class, in essence a portfolio of class accomplishments and an instrument that can be used to assess the curriculum.
Wrapping it all together in a Portfolio
An electronic portfolio can be a container for all of the above learning objects. It allows the student to add selected artifacts and to reflect on those artifacts with respect to their understandings. If properly done, it can provide a window into the content and skills that a student is mastering or has mastered. Faculty can use the portfolio to gauge the job that their curriculum and methods are doing. As we look at our curriculum and identify the essential questions and understandings students need to master, the portfolio can become a better way to monitor and document a student’s progress as well as to examine the effect that the overall curriculum is having on student learning. Portfolios have a place for formative assessment and the learning process. Grade books, on the other hand, are a container for numbers that typically document a summative assessment and offer much less opportunity for feedback and growth. Granted, this is an oversimplification and at a later date we can rethink and examine portfolios in greater detail.
Lots of ideas for assessing the learning process are contained in the scenarios above. If you’d like one of the scenarios to be further explained, please request that in the comment field. The overall take away is that technology affords me ways to see learning happen, modify it before its too late, and use it to judge myself and the curriculum.
Creating an assessment centered learning environment that fosters a love of learning and develops a growth mindset that requires that teachers understand what the emerging literacies are and give students ample opportunities in the assignment and assessments they create to acquire those skills. That leads us to the need to rethink not only content but also skills. Feedback is terrific but it needs to given on work that is meaningful and engaging to students. This isn’t really homework, but before we rethink content and skills, take a bit to imagine how it would feel to shadow a student for a day. What activities would interest you? What part of the day would you enjoy? Where would you find engagement? What would you learn that would help you in your current job?
growthmindset - Nigel Holmes - http://www.stanfordalumni.org/news/magazine/2007/marapr/images/features/dweck/dweck_mindset.pdf