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?


  1. Great blog! Thanks for providing some great questions to reflect on!

    1. You are welcome, Maddie! Thank you for stopping by the blog!

  2. I find it difficult sometimes to have authentic and meaningful assessment in the history classroom because the majority of my curriculum is based on past events. What this means for me is that I have to think outside the box and either transport kids back to the historical time period or link the feelings of the past to modern disscusions. It takes more time and effort to create lessons that are meaningful, but the kids motivation to do their work increases as I increase the authenticity.

    1. I agree that authenticity is the key. History has only come alive for me as an adult thinker because I now see the power in learning from the past. If I had an educator like you in my History classes, I think things would be different. Thank you for taking that time for our learners to make things more authentic. The more we can bring History to "the now" for our learners, the more engaged they will be.

  3. I loved the TED Talk! I am doing some serious reflection on motivation, assessment, and more!

    1. That's great, Robin! Thank you for taking time to come to our blog!

  4. I agree that we have to think outside the box and come up with meaningful lessons and menus for the students, but I think it will benefit the students in the long run to be able to work independently and in small groups and work on a problem for a sustained period of time. The motivation in my classroom to work on and complete projects in a timely manner has really been enhanced with the use of iPads! I also know I can stop and have them reflect on their learning by doing a quick assessment of what they know or how far along they are in a project to see what direction my teaching should go next.

    1. I agree that giving the learners time for collaboration and indepenedent work provides us with the potential for more motivated moments in our classrooms. The best thing about using menus and other design techniques in the classroom is the time we then have to conference, workshop and assess our learners. By taking the pulse of how a learner is progressing, we can change our course in the moment to get them the help they truly need.