This Thursday at 8pm CST #saskedchat will be exploring Assessment – As, For, and Of Learning.
As often happens in education, the discussion of assessment seems to result in polarization of ideas where individuals take an Either/Or stance. This can be seen on the discussion of homework vs stop homework, where discussions often take the well-worn path of the all-in/out stance. Inevitably this type of discussion polarizes the issue(s) which really doesn’t help anyone, except maybe those people trying to sell something (another little issue that is steadily creeping into educational discussions lately).
Assessment is a part of schooling and people seem to agree that assessment needs to change but, depending on your point of view and who you talk to, the way it needs to change is not necessarily clear. There are calls for eliminating high stakes testing as they are currently used while others point to their use around the globe with mixed results.
Assessment As, Of, and For Learning
There are many times during a day in which I am ‘assessed’. If I’m driving and a police officer is watching traffic, I will be assessed on how well I am following the rules of the road and adhering to the laws, at that particular instant. When I cook for my family, how well I do is ‘assessed’ by whether people like what was cooked or not. Depending on how you view assessment, each day we are assessed in a variety of ways, some more directly than others. Drive over the speed limit in a zone where there is photo-radar, you will probably receive a ticket for failing to follow the posted speed limit.
For teachers, ePortfolios, Project Based Learning, Problem Based Learning, Inquiry, Genius Hour, Maker Space, Kahoot, Socrative, Google Classroom, Freshgrade, Flipgrid and a variety of other tools and strategies are changing how teachers are engaging in assessment with students and is changing how teachers are using assessment in the classroom. As a way to frame the discussion of assessment, looking at “Why” one assesses can help to frame the discussion in a different way. In order to facilitate this changing assessment landscape, discussing assessment As, Of, and For Learning helps to differentiate the role of assessment and how it is used.
These are not new terms, nor are they necessarily new ways of looking at assessment. This differentiation does help to see how assessment has shifted from an end-of-unit exam or a 5 paragraph essay to something much more dynamic and complex.
Assessment As Learning
Assessment As Learning focuses on students self-monitoring their own learning. This is described as meta-cognition – the knowledge of one’s thinking.
Assessment as learning emerges from the idea that learning is not just a matter of transferring ideas from someone who is knowledgeable to someone who is not, but is an active process of cognitive restructuring that occurs when individuals interact with new ideas. Within this view of learning, students are the critical connectors between assessment and learning. For students to be actively engaged in creating their own understanding, they must learn to be critical assessors who make sense of information, relate it to prior knowledge, and use it for new learning. This is the regulatory process in metacognition; that is, students become adept at personally monitoring what they are learning, and use what they discover from the monitoring to make adjustments, adaptations, and even major changes in their thinking.
Helping students to understand their own learning is key in helping them develop skills to be life-long learners who will be able to meet the demands and challenges in a world that continues to rapidly change. No one is really sure what will happen in the next 10 years but it will probably be very different than it is today while remaining very similar in many ways.
Assessment For Learning
Assessment For Learning takes place throughout the learning process from the beginning of the school year until it ends. With the use of different digital platforms, this process can continue throughout the entire time a student is in school, with learning events and reflections occurring in a variety of ways all the while parts of these events being digitally captured to allow teachers, students, and parents to see the growth over time and identify areas that might need further development.
Assessment for learning occurs throughout the learning process. It is designed to make each student’s understanding visible, so that teachers can decide what they can do to help students progress. Students learn in individual and idiosyncratic ways, yet, at the same time, there are predictable patterns of connections and preconceptions that some students may experience as they move along the continuum from emergent to proficient. In assessment for learning, teachers use assessment as an investigative tool to find out as much as they can about what their students know and can do, and what confusions, preconceptions, or gaps they might have.
Organization such as Canadian Assessment for Learning Network support teachers, schools and parents with Assessment For Learning and work to provide great understanding about the role of Assessment For Learning and it’s use within the learning process.
Assessment Of Learning
Assessment of Learning can be described as a snapshot of a person’s learning at a particular point in time. This has traditionally been what was reported on a traditional report card with a grade.
Assessment of learning refers to strategies designed to confirm what students know, demonstrate whether or not they have met curriculum outcomes or the goals of their individualized programs, or to certify proficiency and make decisions about students’ future programs or placements. It is designed to provide evidence of achievement to parents, other educators, the students themselves, and sometimes to outside groups (e.g., employers, other educational institutions).
Assessment of learning is the assessment that becomes public and results in statements or symbols about how well students are learning.
Various school divisions in Saskatchewan, in Canada, and around the globe have begun to adopt a report card that focuses on feedback and growth as opposed to grades. As with all change, there is resistance of this form of reporting and, in some cases, a call to return to traditional grades.
What do you think?
This is just a very general overview of Assessment As, For, and Of Learning. There are many more nuances to assessment that often are not discussed. I would highly recommend you check out these resources for a much greater discussion of assessment:
Softening the Edges – by Katie White – an great book about many of the parts of assessment that don’t often get discussed. I highly recommend this book as it will challenge you to think of assessment in new ways.
Checking for Understanding – by Doug Fisher & Nancy Frey – A great book that highlights the use of Formative Assessment at all grade levels.
Integrating Differentiated Instruction and Understanding by Design – by Carol Ann Tomlinson and Jay McTighe – this has been my go to book for addressing the whole assessment piece – planning like an assessor not like an activity planner.
What do you think? What are your thought about assessment? How would you like to see things change?
Join #saskedchat Thursday night at 8pm CST as we explore this topic.
Our topic was Homework and it was a great discussion. Participants were very willing to discuss the many different aspects of homework and how they used homework in their own classrooms. Most participants agreed that the view of homework is evolving. Sometimes communicating this change to parents isn’t easy. There is still a sense that if students are really going to do some learning, they have to do homework. In many instances, parents question “Why isn’t there more homework?”
Alfie Kohen has a number of articles related to homework which question the research and the necessity of homework. Other authors, such as Kristen Swanson, discuss the need for homework to be authentic, deliberate, and engaging. There is no shortage of ideas, comments, thoughts and perspectives on the role of homework.
As a teacher, my own guide was that the question isn’t really about homework. Instead, shifting the discussion to one of learning and expectations. As I shifted to an inquiry based approach to my own teaching and began to look for cross-curricular links for learning objectives, it became clearer to me that the question of “to give or not to give” disappeared and was replaced with a question of learning. What would benefit the learning of the student? What would help the student as they were learning? Sometimes, as with some content, learning sometimes required them to continue at home – reading, doing some research, or an extension that included gathering data from outside the classroom. Other times students would be asked to finish something so we could continue tomorrow. This is the basis of the flipped classroom where students are required to view or listen to specific learning outside the classroom so they can practice and implement while in school – obtaining further instructions and assistance from the teacher.
At its core, “flipped instruction” refers to moving aspects of teaching out of the classroom and into the homework space. With the advent of new technologies, specifically the ability to record digitally annotated and narrated screencasts, instructional videos have become a common medium in the flipped classroom. Although not limited to videos, a flipped classroom most often harnesses different forms of instructional video published online for students. Edutopia Rasmey Musallam
As with any format, there are pros and cons of the flipped classroom as discussed in the article.
Maurice Elias furthers the discussion by asking us to shift the question:
The real question we should be asking is, “What do we believe should happen after the end of the school day to help ensure that students retain what they have learned and are primed to learn more?”
Elias further states
Children should be encouraged to read, write, perform arithmetic, better understand the world around them in terms of civics, science, and the arts, and, of course, develop their people skills — their emotional intelligence. This encouragement should be part of everyday family interactions outside of school, and the school should provide developmental guidance to all parents, in the appropriate languages, to help them do this.
As the article by Kelly Wallace shows, there are many different opinions about homework. As a father of 8 children who span the education spectrum from grade 1 to university, I have witnessed both beneficial work and, unfortunately, some work that was unnecessary. As an educator who has also had the privilege of being a school administrator, I know firsthand the struggle that educators face in response to the different demands placed on them in helping students meet the learning outcomes and the how different policies impact what a teachers do.
I highly recommend taking some time to look at the archive for the chat as participants had some great ideas and insights on the topic.
Student Led Conferences
Student Led Conferences (SLC’s) might seem to be new but they’ve been around for awhile, at least 18 years – that’s when I first encountered them as a newbie teacher. Since that beginning, I’ve had the professional pleasure of working with a number of school staffs and communities in adopting and growing SLC’s. In my current position, this was our 3rd year with SLC’s. Our school, a newly amalgamated K – 12 facility in a rural community, has an evening conference time and a morning conference when parents and their children can come to the school for the SLC. In my opinion, the best way to facilitate the SLC is to have them in the evenings/after school when both parents will be able to attend – as many families have both parents working.
Contrary to what many people seem to believe, SLC’s are much more time intensive and require a great deal of preparation on the part of the student and the teacher. Especially in a high school setting where a student will have more than one teacher, there is a greater need to communicate the purpose of the SLC.
So what is the purpose?
For me, as a teacher, it began with a portfolio of student work, some I selected and some the student selected. We’d sit down with the parents and “discuss” the work. At the time, there were so few schools doing this type of work that our staff was working to develop these pretty much on our own. What emerged over time, was a realization that we needed to redefine the whole SLC from an event that took place at a particular time and date to a process in which we engaged students and parents and the date and time was just a formal meeting to discuss the process. Whoa- talk about a mindshift! Much as we talk about such things as Differentiated Instruction being a process and not something we do or RtI being a process, so are SLC’s. They are a process that involves parents, students and teachers in the learning process and are valuable learning experiences in and of themselves.
SLC’s need to be discussed beginning in September. The process of developing a relationship with parents about student learning should begin when the school year begins and the SLC will be a point in time to review, with the student leading, what has occurred. It also needs to be clear that regular communication with the home is essential. Parents need not wait for that conference to discuss concerns.
Spreading the Message
A good way to begin the discussion is inviting parents to an Open House and discussing the report cards, SLC process and other learning initiatives. Notice that I said discuss. Don’t just tell parents what you will do but come up with ways to involve them in the discussion – topic tables, parking-lot discussions (a type of way to elicit questions) and teacher-led focus areas are some ways to involve parents. The first few times you have these Open Houses you may have a poor turnout but if you are truly open to what is being said, listening and then responding, your attendance will improve. People want to know you are listening.
Social media provides another avenue for you to elicit feedback from the community. Whether It’s a school web page, a blog, a wiki, FaceBook, twitter, a Ning, Google+ or some other service, you can provide parents with an opportunity to be informed about what is happening and a way to provide you with feedback. A blog post, wiki page, Google+ entry, Ning page would be just some of the ways to provide information and elicit some feedback. A third way, which might not work in some places, is a simple mailout. Now, before you skip over this and dismiss it, my experience, being in a small community for a number of years is that this is by far our best option for communicating to the community. In fact, since we began mailing out our newsletters to the general community, everyone who lives in the towns our students come from, we’ve had more feedback and comments from ALL sectors of population. The community wants to know what is happening at the school and a large percentage do not use social media – yet. We’ve had more businesses talk to us about supporting our student-led initiatives than before and more of our seniors contact the school about events.
This helps set the stage for the SLC’s. I would encourage staff to continue with the contact with parents either through small information inserts in the school newsletter, updates on the school webpage or FB or whatever is being used. These reinforce the message that learning is continuous and helps parents be aware of what is happening in the classroom.
The SLC “Event”
The actual conference can take a variety of formats and this depends on the age of the students and their familiarity with the process. As I mentioned, we are in our third year with SLC’s. This year the K and 1 teacher have been recording their students’ growth and progress using a blog. During the SLC, students were able to show and discuss their goals and what they had done through the digital images and recordings. They also had learning stations set up in the room where parents and students were able to explore the learning that students had been doing in the class. Feedback was extremely positive. Our other classes use a portfolio to highlight their learning goals and some use learning stations. In the elementary grades, feedback is positive.
It’s in the middle years and high school that the SLC’s aren’t always as successful at the start. As a school, we need to better prepare all parties. Again, this comes with time and experience. As students become more familiar with the process, parents are more open and teachers become less apprehensive. People begin to discuss more openly earlier in the year and, eventually the lingering effects of the traditional Parent/Teacher interview fade away. Some parents, especially with students in the senior grades don’t ever embrace the format and that is okay. We continue to provide them with more information through the many ways we communicate than they previously had and we are always open to parents coming in to talk about their child’s learning.
In the MY and HS, we have adopted a scripted format to begin the discussion process. This helps to set the stage. Because we want the discussions to be led by the students and them to focus on their goals, providing them with a starting point relieves some of the pressure they feel. Some of these students still are not very comfortable with discussing their learning. We began this year with asking teachers to have their students set learning goals in each of their classes and then, periodically, reflect on those goals. This was the basis for the discussions at SLC’s. We still have work to do to help everyone to see that this is a part of learning and being able to present one’s work, thoughts and ideas are essential skills.
In my experience as a classroom teacher, it was during our fourth year that we really noticed a change in the way parents and students interacted during the SLC’s and just a general change in the whole home-school communication when it came to student learning. The 7th year, my last at the school, was very different in so many ways. However, one of the keys was, up until then, a small turn-over in staff. We had worked in PLC’s to improve our SLC’s and this continuity was important in growing this process.
SLC’s are not new. We have new means to communicate with parents and students have some different mediums in which they can discuss their learning but the interpersonal skills that are needed and so key haven’t changed and the need for teachers and parents to invest in this process is still vitally important. Most of all, it takes time for all parties to work through the process.
Today was another monumental day at school. For the first time, students were brought together to create the policies and consequences which they will follow in the upcoming year in the areas of attendance, lates, cellphone use and leaving school during the day. Areas, which up until now, had been the sole domain of the teachers and, usually, the principal.
When I arrived to take over the principalship almost 4 years ago, attendance was an issue particularly relating to students arriving for school, and class, late. It was particularly bad in grades 11 & 12. Being my first year, I watched and tried to figure out some way that this might be addressed so that the problem might be reduced to occasional occurrences not daily happenings. Over the next three years, I drew up different policies but they just didn’t work as a result of a number of reasons on all sides. This year, instead of coming up with a new policy, I tossed it back to the teachers telling them that they needed to solve how to handle the lates in their classes. That didn’t work. We continue to deal with a number of students who, for no other reason than they can, arrive late for classes in the morning and after lunch and, for some of them, in between.
As an administrator, it was starting to feel like the problem was unsolvable – the will just wasn’t there. Then, through a series of unfortunate events, I was left feeling that, if we weren’t able to deal with these issues, we certainly wouldn’t be able to deal with the bigger issues of drugs, student mental health, bullying and all those others that land in our hallways. So, I took a leap of faith and went to the people with whom these policies needed to work – the students.
Today, after lunch, I had the students in grades 9, 10, & 11 assemble in the library. I then explained my plan. They were going to set the boundaries for the following areas: students being late, students skipping classes, students leaving campus without signing out and cellphone usage. I explained that for three years these problems had continued without there being any real improvement. We’d tried a number of things and none of them worked. I needed them to identify what was acceptable in these areas, give boundaries for students and suggest consequences that students would have if they didn’t comply. I explained that these things we were talking about were mostly part of the Education Act, except for the cellphone use. These were areas that were part of the law and needed to be addressed. As with cellphones, we needed to come up with something that worked for them and for teachers. I spoke about how this was something that few students in schools get an opportunity to do and, depending on how things worked out, could be the start to many different issues that were part of how the school functioned. I trusted them, I explained, and was willing to give them the chance to demonstrate that they could do great things, “they could fly”. I then turned them loose with chartpaper and markers. 65 minutes later the last group handed in their ideas.
I’ve only had a few moments to go through their ideas but I can tell you that they took this very seriously and, without an exception, have come up with some great ideas for each area. Combining the ideas of the groups will result in something that is very clear to the students and very powerful. The one area that really struck me was the use of cellphones. Without an exception, each group agreed that they wanted to be able to use their phones during breaks but, once in class, they were to stay away unless called upon (calculator or agenda) and no texting was to take place. They gave consequences that were straightforward and reasonable, for the most part.
This type of thing happened for the other areas although there were some that were a bit “too strict” and some a bit “too wide-open”. However, it was clear that the students were wanting to be part of creating a solution. After this was done, I didn’t have time to talk with staff and won’t tomorrow because I’m at an all-day meeting. However, I’ve had some conversations with students and all of them have stated that the only way that this will work is if EVERY teacher follows through and doesn’t allow exceptions for particular students. This was mentioned for each of the grades that were represented. They wanted what they did to have meaning but know that all teachers must be using the guidelines. They expressed frustration with what they saw as double standards and were using this opportunity to voice their frustrations. They don’t want me to be the only one who goes about trying to implement their ideas.
They’re right. All teachers must be willing to embrace the chance these students have taken. I thought I was the only one taking a chance but, really, they were also taking a chance – a very big chance. They were willing to seriously consider what might be done about these things and they want those people who have the authority to follow through to do just that – to honour the work that they have done.
As a parent, I am always so proud when I see my children do something that I know has caused them some great inner struggle. Well, today I was very proud of these youth. They demonstrated that, given the opportunity and guidance, they can discuss, debate and deliver on a task that, up until now, has been difficult for staff to agree upon and follow through.
It’s been that kind of year
This year our school has taken the first steps toward having students being functioning members of the learning community and not just the beings that show up after we, the adults, have decided what should happen. They have had equal input into our school Code of Conduct, they have representatives that sit on our School Community Council who give us advice on particular ideas and they have now taken the first steps toward creating a true learning community, where all partners are part of the process. The crucial part will be getting teachers to work alongside the students – being there to help and guide them, assist and question them and, if need be, provide the discipline that is needed to help them. We’re a long way away from some of those schools that make headlines and are model schools and only time will tell if we can take what we did today and improve upon it. But, I am encourage and excited about the possibilities, seeing such things as our School Representative Council becoming more than a body that plans pep rallies and spirit days but instead being a place where such things as class trips are discussed and planned, electives for senior classes are explored and major decisions about how students act and interact are drafted.
We’re not done!
To add to this, on Thursday evening there is a meeting scheduled for staff, parents and students to discuss what types of electives they would like to see offered for our seniors. For the first time, instead of deciding what we will offer, we are going to have parents and students give us their ideas about what they would like to see happening at the school. Another huge step toward bringing all members of our learning community into the learning process. We’ll see how that turns out!