Stealing this, with gratitude

If you read my final blog post of the last year, you will know that I am  struggling with assessment, and how assessment can shape learning.

I want assessment to be for learning, not of learning. I ran into this blog this morning, and loved the description of ass-ass method of teaching writing. The rest of the blog post is worth reading as well.

Assessment of learning, if that is all that is ever done, implies that students can’t grow intellectually and that they can’t develop greater skill.

It’s a fixed mindset, and in my view has done untold damage to broad range of students.

Many of my students suffer from the perception that there are smart students, and they get As and Bs. They have this school thing cracked, and there is nothing to do but keep raking in the marks.

Then there are other students. They ‘understand’ they are ‘dumb’, and will stay that way, and will probably pass and even often graduate, but what we are doing in school actually has little to do with them.

All my jumping up and down, and motivating, and cajoling, and sometimes crying is just amusing (and sometimes alarming) and mostly they humour me, but everyone seems to know where they fit.

There is no fix. The game is fixed. Our minds are fixed.

It’s all wrong, and I want to get off this train-track to nowhere, or kinda-somewhere.

As per my previous post, I have been implementing a lot of the strategies recommended by the assessment for learning research. We make learning intentions clear, we are focussed on skills and essential questions, we examine exemplars, students construct rubrics, we assess exemplars.

I have stopped giving grades until I have to, and use description instead. I ask students to self-assess, but the results have been underwhelming.

My practice has changed radically and I have learned a great deal. I need this to be true for students.

The next area of improvement, I had decided, was student portfolio and student self-assessment. I am working on integration of that process. But, the other day, via Twitter, I ran into this Sea to Sky Learning blog on the science lab write-up. The teacher has been struggling with making descriptive feedback on lab write-ups matter.

The key to Karen’s process is that all labs will be in a Lab Duotang. The feedback will also be placed there. Then, when the next lab is submitted, the student must write a cover letter in which they explain what areas they sought to improve, based on the feedback from the previous lab. The letter is in the form of ‘please notice that I worked on….’

I love this and I think it will make the routine feedback vastly more … routinized. I can use the doutangs to talk with students and parents, to write interim reports.

How to make this work in my Humanities classes? There are two key areas where I would like to see students be more self-evaluative, as a start.

First, I want them to ‘own’ the information we learn. The only way to do this is to show their thinking. This is personalized learning for all students. I want to hear their voices, and I want them to hear their voices. I want them to inquire, and see their brains on fire. We learn when we write (it’s happening to me right now), so I want to see them write more frequently about what they think about when we consume information, and why it matters, how it connects to their lives, how it expands their understanding, and so on.

Secondly, I want them to think about themselves as learners and as members of a learning community.

So, for starters, two sections of the Learning Duotang, one for Voice (response to information, response to literature) and one for Participation. This word, participation, is a very loaded term in assessment. What I am trying to express is the idea of active involvement in learning, whether it is taking place in a full-class setting, in a group, or as an individual. What is a phrase or word that can capture that? Active involvement? I want to students to become aware, if they have not already, of the absolute necessity of their active involvement in the learning process. Oral language assessment is part of it. Social responsibility is also a part of it.

I’d sure love some help thinking this through.

As the year progresses, I would think that students could pick an area in which they want feedback and improvement. The learning goals could become differentiated by student in a more specific way.

4 thoughts on “Stealing this, with gratitude

  1. We (pacificslope ss teacher types) spent some time talking about this topic, more or less, on Friday. Part of the problem is that “assessment for learning” has two facets… 1) let’s focus on what kids are learning and provide kid-friendly assessment to help them learn more, and 2) the organizational trend (and misapplication of AFL) towards no zeros, devaluing attendance, isolating active involvement and behaviours from some pure idea of “learning” etc. We agreed that they only way to do 1) while avoiding 2) was to rely more on performance-based assessment, open & ongoing evaluation of what students can demonstrate using skills, challenged with big ideas, and armed with the curricular investigations we’ve done in a variety of contexts. Not that new, just that we want the critical thinking benchmarks to be there from start to finish. There is some of our writing in the works on this topic, but we plan to meet Nov 30 in PG for a round table on this topic if you’d like to join us. SS for sure, but prolly relevant to Eng/LA and other disciplines. Your caring thoughtful attitude would be a good contrast to our hardass cynical smugness!

    • Thanks for the invitation – I am looking at my calendar now! I think you have articulated some of the challenges nicely. I want to ensure rigour while not engaging in mathematically and pedagically outrageous practices. I am also aware that there is something to do here with readiness to change, with ability, for both students and teachers. As I change my practice, slowly wrenching myself toward a marriage of my practice and my evolving theory, I know it is wrenching for everyone involved. We have to proceed carefully, to bring with us what works and to be really thoughtful about what might not be working. All changes will have results that we can’t predict. Anyway, brain-fried from the BCTELA conference. I teach both Social Studies and English – have never really practiced either of them in isolation. It’s all the same question – who are we as humans, what does it mean to be human? I’ll DM you personally on Twitter about the November 30th date. Thanks for the comments; I appreciate your participation in my learning network!

  2. Reading your post (because assessment’s something I’m wrestling with too) made me think about how to help my students be braver about self-assessment and reflection. They need to use their own voice, not one they’re manufacturing for a grade. I think I’ll try blogging at the same time as my students, project my post on the big screen, encourage everyone to share reflections about how the week went (no matter how messy)… maybe celebrate cool mistakes and creative solutions. Thanks for the reminder to keep trying!

    • I love your comment about not using the voice they use to get the grade. We do need to help them find the authentic voice of their learning and thinking. Love the idea about reflecting as a class on how things are going. That belongingness to a community where people have a voice is really key. This is such complex work, which is what makes it so engaging. Thanks for your comments, Jenny!

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