Monday, December 16, 2013

Meaningful Assessments and Motivation From the Perspective of the Learner

Before you watch the video linked below, ask yourself how your learners may respond to the question, "What is the most important issue in education?"  Would they mention something visible to them such as class size, school safety, or extra-curricular activities?  Or, would they talk about their own motivation and purpose?  Would your learners express concern about not seeing the importance of education and the connection in your classroom?  

This video from PBS shares What Students Think are the Most Important Issues in Education:

The learners spoke about a lack of motivation to learn or perform well.  Surprised?  Dan Meyer's TED talk here: makes me think that he wouldn't be surprised.  He shares that he teaches high school math.  He states, "I sell a product to a market that doesn't want it that is forced by law to buy it."  Dan goes on to share 5 clues that you are doing math reasoning wrong in your classroom:
  1. Lack of initiative
  2. Lack of perseverance.
  3. Lack of retention.
  4. Aversion to word problems.
  5. Eagerness for formula.
What does this have to do with meaningful assessments?  Well, the key to appropriate, efficient assessments is that they occur often (daily).  If our learners are assessed often (daily), then those assessments should be worth their time and purposeful --- meaningful!  I imagine the learning/assessing routine in the classroom to be cyclical: learn/assess/learn/assess, repeat.  Those assessments, though, are actually a fluid, dynamic portion of the lesson design.  A meaningful assessment may be in the form of a task to complete, a process to analyze, or a true application of concepts.  For example, if the learners were expected to classify and sort a variety of geometric figures, regardless of orientation or size, send the learners out into their environment beyond the classroom walls to scout geometric figures, capture them (possibly using digital technology) then sort accordingly.  This can be done individually, with a small group, or as an entire class with a challenge associated.  Would the learners realize they were being assessed by completing that activity?  Possibly not.  Would they able to see the math around them, beyond their textbook, beyond the scripted lesson that may include die-cut triangles and rectangles in a baggie?  Most definitely so!

So why are learners sometimes not motivated and how can meaningful assessments curtail this?  I conclude that there are two reasons for a lack of motivation in the classroom: (1) The learners do not see the connection to what they are doing in class, those tasks they are asked to complete, and their world beyond the classroom and (2) The learners do not feel successful.  What can we do about this?  Provide tasks for the learners that are authentic, clearly connected to the standards being assessed, and allow for self-check.

What are authentic tasks?  When learners are asked to construct their own responses, create their own understanding, or complete their own unique product, we are setting them up to be authentically, actively engaged in the content.  Also, when the learners face challenges that mirror those they may face in their world beyond the classroom, these are authentic.

How can we allow for self-check?  In the geometric sorting activity above, if the learners were to create their own definitions and examples prior to exploring and capturing the images, they could use their own "answer key" to check.  Do not look beyond the power of collaboration with peers.  Given the opportunity to explain a concept to a classmate, learners must re-tell an idea in his/her own words, revisiting the process and communicating appropriately – depending his/her own understanding as a result.

So motivation in the classroom is directly connected to meaningful assessments?  Yes!  If the tasks the learners are asked to complete are worth their time and purposeful in their eyes and they feel successful in the process, then they will understand the importance of the lesson and engage in an authentic manner.  

Meaningful Assessments and Motivation From the Perspective of the Educator

All of those meaningful, authentic tasks you are designing for the learners to complete are actually assessments of their understanding of the associated concepts!  You need not halt instruction and learning to assess – assessing throughout the learning process (formative assessment) when done well occurs often (daily) in the classroom.  If the learners in your classroom were completing the geometric sorting activity above and you noticed a pattern of misunderstanding, you could provide the learners with an opportunity to correct and move forward.  If the learners were able to successfully capture and sort the figures, need you stop the learning process and provide a pencil/paper multiple choice test on naming geometric figures?  Most definitely not!  
So, how do you ensure that YOUR classroom assessments are meaningful?
Are the objectives that you are assessing today essential for learners to know for tomorrow?

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Learner Self-Assessing through Formative Assessment Strategies

Self-assessment by pupils, far from being a luxury, is in fact an essential component of formative assessment.
-Black & Wiliam, 1998 

Today we welcome guest Bloggers Jodie Deinhammer (Coppell HS Teacher of the Year) and Missy Schliep (Coppell Middle School West Teacher of the Year.)

Jodie writes, "I feel that it is important for learners be given time to reflect and have the opportunity to re-evaluate.  The best learning occurs when mistakes are made.  If we allow learners to feel comfortable making mistakes without receiving a bad grade, they are more likely to take risks and learn at a deeper level.  For example, when learners are creating a project for publication, I meet with each team and give verbal feedback and conduct a Q&A with just that team.  I offer suggestions on how to improve, alter, change, etc.  They are comfortable asking questions in a small group setting and bounce ideas off of me and other group members. "

"Once they submit their work to me for evaluation, I grade the project without assigning an actual grade to it, only providing feedback and suggestions.  The learners then have more time to make adjustments or changes to their work before the final submission date.  While resubmitting is completely optional, almost every group takes advantage of improving their work.  Throughout the entire project, learners are checking for understanding during our team meetings and small group interactions.  We are also planning to incorporate an anonymous peer review to our next project, so learners can have a better understanding of that process and gain feedback from their peers, as well as me."

Missy adds, "You do need a safe environment. No way will you get your learners to own up to not knowing something if they feel they will be ridiculed. I do like getting my learners involved in their learning. I want to know what they want to know, what misconceptions they might have on the topic we are going to study. I also like having my learners reflect on what they learned. It is important for learners to verbalize their learning, in writing. (See what I did there? Two birds and all. They have to write and express their learning!) Get learners to focus on the learning and not the grade. Because the learning is what’s important.

How are you including learners in YOUR ‘Assessment Process’?

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Importance of Feedback in Assessment

“The most powerful single innovation that enhances achievement is feedback. The simplest prescription for improving education must be ‘dollops’ of feedback.” 
-John Hattie

Guest Blogger Kimberly Kindred (Assistant Principal, Coppell Middle School North) writes:

TOP TEN Reasons to use Feedback in Assessments

Number #10: It allows for opportunities for re-teaching. You will be able to see EXACTLY where learners are with formative assessments and provide opportunities for re-teach when a learner has struggled with a topic.

Number #9: It serves as a personal conference with the learner. When you take the time to provide individual, personal feedback to students that is very specific, it naturally lends itself to being a personal conference. SN: Personal conferences are also a huge intervention strategy used with our struggling learners.

Number #8: You will only give a test because you HAVE TO, not because you need to. You will know where every learner falls on every topic, in all your classes.

Number #7: EMPOWERMENT! Yes, let’s empower learners and allow them to see what they know and don’t know. Make their learning personal, specific to them!

Number #6: And after empowerment comes enrichment opportunities. After learners are able to see what they do and don’t know, allow them other avenues to get the information that they missed. Put them in the driver’s seat!

Number #5: It helps you track learner growth over content, the process in which they learn, or the products in which they produce. Tracking learner growth will enable you to see strengths and weaknesses of each learner.

Number #4: It allows for personal educator growth. By allowing learners to process feedback, from you, and assess their own learning, you will be able to make adjustments within your own process of teaching. It lends to a self-reflection after meeting and discussing with students.  You may begin to ask yourself such questions as: Was this explained clearly? Could there have been another way for me to present this information? Why are most learners struggling with this particular concept?

Number #3: Parents appreciate the consistent feedback. Instead of remembering how someone did at the end of a unit, you will have check marks all throughout that you can refer back to.

Number #2: You will gain a better understanding of how your learners process the material. It could help with unit/classroom design of future projects.

Number #1: It makes learners MORE successful in the long run! And that is why we all teach; for the students. What matters MOST is learner success, and feedback in assessments, formative and summative, is a great start!

How do you give constructive feedback to your learners?
What changes are taking place as a result of the constructive feedback?