This past summer I attended the Assessment Training Institute in Portland, Oregon. A huge theme and take away for me from this conference was that student assessments should be built as an assessment for learning, not just assessments of learning. According to the Assessment Reform Group, assessment for learning “is the process of seeking and interpreting evidence for use by learners and their teachers to decide where the learners are in their learning, where they need to go and how best to get there.”
This idea of assessment for learning as a tool to see where students are in their thinking and learning process was thought provoking for me. I was intrigued by this idea that this approach to assessment empowers students by giving them ownership and understanding of where they are in their learning process. According to Rick Stiggins, “in the case of assessment FOR learning, the key question is, what comes next in the learning? The decision makers are teachers and their students.” So in my mind, assessment for learning was another medium to create a true partnership of learning between student and teacher.
However, creating opportunities for authentic and reflective assessment for learning was easier said than done. In my mind I understood how we could use assessment for learning, but I would have to say that I am not sure how well I put it into practice. Most of my assessments reflected a model of checking for understanding of content and skills. Even when I tried to create an assessment that was for learning rather than of learning, I felt that I continued to come up short of my goal. However the other day I think that I had a bit of a breakthrough, and it was not even how I had planned for it to occur.
My DP Econ students were studying linear demand and supply equations. Super Exciting! To assess their understanding of the equations and how they are used, I tasked my students with going out into the school and teaching an adult about the equations. I set up a few parameters for the task such as the time allotted and that students had to take photos of them teaching and then video record the adult summarizing their understanding of what had been taught. With these limited parameters my students went out into the school to share and teach and I waited to see how it went.
Thirty minutes later all students were back. There was a buzz in the classroom as they shared stories with each other of their successes and pitfalls of teaching. My initial thought was to immediately jump into debriefing the content that they had just gone over, but then I changed my mind. The first questions that I asked was, “How was that process for you? What did you learn about your understanding of this concept by teaching linear equations to a novice?”
The responses that I heard from students were far more valuable than any content review. When we focused on the thinking process rather than the content students reflected genuinely on their their thinking, understanding and metacognition. They remarked on how much they were challenged to articulate their understanding to someone that had no previous knowledge. They spoke as to how they were challenged to organize their thinking and ideas. They spoke to how they could identify key ideas and specific gaps in their understanding by going through this process. Most importantly for me, students talked about how they learned by taking part in this assessment.
This was assessment for learning! Through a simple process and thinking orientated reflection question, students were able to use this assessment to learn more about themselves as thinkers and to learn about their overall understanding. They were able to learn about how to formulate and communicate explanations that were clear and fluent. They were able to learn about what areas of the content they needed to speak to me about for extra help. Most importantly, I think that they learned that even though they are just starting out their economic careers, they already know and understand a lot, and that is empowering.
This assessment and their reflection allowed them to engaged in their learning. According to Rick Stiggins, assessment should allow “students become consumers of assessment information too, using evidence of their own progress to understand what comes next for them.” This puts students in the driver’s seat of their education and their learning. The teacher can now be there to act as a support system, coach, and field expert for the student. The student has the evidence to pinpoint their academic gaps and the teacher can focus with accuracy interventions that can help students achieve their desired academic goals.
The simple question of “How was that process for you?” has changed how I approach the creation of my assessments. I now understand that I should be able to ask this question after each and every assessment and hopefully be able to learn just as much about a student’s understanding of the material as I would from marking their actual work. I hope that by using assessment for learning my students will see that process is as valuable as end product. I also believe that helping students develop the skill of reflection through asking, “How was that Process for you?” will be a valuable skill that they can apply across all subject or all future learning.