Formative Thoughts on Assessment and Evaluation

My philosophy of assessment and education has been primarily forged by my coaching experience and deepened by my study in Education. Yogi Berra offered a pithy quote that summarizes my thoughts nicely: “it ain’t over ’til it’s over.” I believe learning, of any skill, process, or concept, to be a continuum. We all start somewhere, and end somewhere – the role of an educator is to help students progress as far as possible in the time that we’re given. To accomplish that goal, we use three types of assessment. Diagnostic assessment is used to determine the starting point of students; formative assessment is completed daily to set goals, work towards them, and deliver feedback for the next day; summative assessment only occurs at the end of a course. Summative assessment, in this model, is not part of the learning process – it’s a way of summarizing learning when reporting to outside agencies. In a strictly regulated learning environment, like our public education system, summative assessment needs to be completed more often to satisfy the supervising outside agencies.

During pre-internship, I used all three types of assessment, but I didn’t design them all. Most of the summative assessment I implemented was created by one of my co-ops. For diagnostic tools, I used quick-writes, brainstorms, and think-pair-shares. The summative tools I used included tests, quizzes, presentations, and written narratives. The majority of my tools used were formative; I used many different worksheets, individual and small group conversations, monitoring sheets and anecdotal records, peer-feedback with rubrics, defence for credit forms, written reflections, Kahoot, and class discussions.

My implementation of assessment tools was most effective in my English A30 class, for several reasons. The most important factor was my pre-planning. I was told to do a unit, so I made a unit plan. I built in assessment pieces, and used them to rework my plan as the unit progressed. In comparison, I planned my math classes day by day; I didn’t plan assessment far in advance, and this limited my effectiveness. I was also given significantly more freedom to do my English unit plan however I wanted – I was more strictly bound to teach math traditionally. In a traditional math classroom, descriptive feedback doesn’t really exist, and almost all assessment is summative.

I directly involved my students in the assessment process in my English class. We built a rubric together, they marked each other using the rubric, they submitted defence for credit forms with an argument for why they deserved the mark they chose, and they had a chance to omit one of two marks for the unit at their discretion. However, when I tried to involve my math students, in a minor way, I was shot down. They worked on a math riddle, and I asked them if they’d prefer it to be formative or summative (in student language). Because they found it easy, they requested it to be a summative grade. However, since that math class had more than one section, and the other sections didn’t do the riddle, it could not be included in the grade-book of just one section. School policy actually seemed to purposefully limit DI.

My main English project was fairly open. Students had to create their own myth, but the presentation option was open. They could submit a written copy, or present to the class. One group decided to film a video. This allowed students to express their learning in a medium they found comfortable, but still tied to the ELA curriculum. In math classes, almost every piece of work we did could be done as an individual or in a small group. Timelines for assignments and tests were relaxed; students would frequently come back on another day and finish work during lunch, or during their tutorial periods. I helped scribe for a student with broken fingers, and spent time reading questions to students who had difficulty making sense of word problems.

I found pre-internship felt like a snippet of internship – I went in, started teaching, meeting students, forming relationships. Then, after 3-weeks, I was whisked out, so I didn’t have to deal with the consequences of all the mistakes I made. It felt like a chance to make all kinds of mistakes, to prevent me from being stuck with them for four months in the fall. I hopefully got a lot of the bugs out of my system (though, of course, other bugs will surface). The biggest barriers I predict for internship will be the restrictions placed on me as a math teacher. If my internship school is like where I went for pre-internship, I can’t design my own summative assessment, all evaluation is standardized across the district, and I’ll be expected to teach topics in a particular order, following the textbook.

I don’t want to spend the last four months of 2015 frustrated and champing at my bit. My plan is to approach variety from a slow and steady perspective. Get to know my co-op,  build trust, and make small changes as I go. If I can develop mathematical curiosity in my  students, and facilitate meaningful discussions around mathematical topics, I’ll be happy. Overcoming fear of math is one of the essential steps of building conceptual understanding. If I have to do some workbook problems along the way, then I will prepare myself for that, mentally.

3 Key Learnings

Take it slow: In the span of 4 days, I had my English class design a rubric, analyse a myth, complete a group presentation, provide their peers with feedback, argue for a mark, and offer suggestions to improve the rubric. It was too many new ideas, too fast. I need to scaffold their learning a bit more. Use a simpler project for their first peer feedback; allow them to design a rubric that I use to mark them; argue for grades later in the semester. Overall, students enjoyed the experience, but I want more than simple enjoyment – I want deep learning.

Diagnostics catch my assumptions: I did several quick-writes from students, and I learned so much. Several students didn’t know their peers; group work was the first time some students had socially interacted with their peers; some students were frustrated by the idea of Aboriginal myths because they had taken Native Studies 30; some students requested adaptations for their learning of which the co-op knew nothing. I did rote diagnosis – now that I’ve experienced the value, I plan to do much more.

Specific direction is required for open assessment: I want students to have variety in their assessment, and have several ways to approach assignments. Being vague and unspecific does not achieve this goal. Especially with students trained to anticipate what a teacher is thinking, who aim to meet unspoken expectations, this confuses and frustrates them. For an open assignment to be effective, I need to give even more, clear direction.

Although my philosophy on assessment and evaluation hasn’t changed much this year, my language when discussing it and my approach to achieving it have. It’s beautiful to be able to consistently learn so much. It makes the future look so much brighter, because my learning will have no end.

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