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: http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_meyer_math_curriculum_makeover.html 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:
- Lack of initiative
- Lack of perseverance.
- Lack of retention.
- Aversion to word problems.
- 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?