How Was That Process For You?

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.

Why do I Study History?

History provides me with a context of the world. It’s comforting yet disturbing as the world is more than today yet greater than myself.

I study history to appreciate the opportunities and advancements we have in the present.

I study history because it promotes critical thinking.

I study history to understand the human race, and why/how people act/think the way they do.

I study history because it helps me to evaluate (IB,IB,IB) the world’s conditions.

I study history becuase the eternal knowledge that it represents allows me to almost time time travel and teleport. It inspires me to leave my own eternal mark.

This year I am working with seniors in high school. I feel lucky that I get to be part of what is a very exciting year for them. There are countless things for these students to anticipate such as graduation, university, and world exams. I hope to be an adult that can support them as they begin their transition into their post secondary life. In addition, I hope that I can be a teacher that can keep them focused, grounded, and living in the present so their high school experience culminates in a way that is memorable and meaninful for them–not experienced in a blur.

My fear is, along with all of the excitement that comes with being a senior in high school, there is also lots of stress, anxiety, and potential burnout. Students can fall victim to going through the motions of school as they wait for the year to finish out. The hard work, critical thinking, and love for learning could be put aside as their next chapter is about to begin.

In an effort to set the tone for the year and hopefully encourage students to reflect and draw focus on the year ahead of them, I asked them the most of basics questions for a history teacher. I asked them, Why are you here? Why do you choose to study history?” The class I teach, SL/HL IB History is an elective for these students. There are other classes out there for them to select from. However, for one reason or another, I have 40 individuals that selected this class. I hoped that by helping students reflect on why history class is meaningful to them I would help to ground them on all the learning that is still to come this year and also rekindle that study of history spark.

In addition to wanting them to be grounded and focused on this year, I also wanted their voice to be heard. Last year when they were first year DP students they did not necessarily get the chance to answer this question. Instead, as the teacher I made the call to start the year off by using a piece by Peter Stearns entitled Why Study History to answer this all important question. While I think that there are many excellent ideas in this piece, the more I reflected on it, the more I became upset that I stole my students opportunity to create this idea for themselves. A year later I tried to redeem myself by giving them the voice.

The responses that I got blew me away. Their responses helped me see that there are many student who are passionate about history and that they find value in the study of history for a wide variety of reasons. Also, by soliciting their response to this question it can help me create a path for the year that can incorporate my students ideas on the importance of history by relating back to the themes and ideas they think are key. Yes, there may be off days and moments of high-stress and unknown for my students, but overall I am so amazed by the insightfulness that my students bring to their learning. It will be my job to keep this level of engagement up all year especially when the future, via their lens, could seem more important than the present. Challenge accepted.