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.

“What did I get?” Time for some self-assessment.

As I wrap another year, some self-assessment is required.

It is apparent to me once again that many students still view the whole assessment process a mystery, yet it should not be so.

I am writing primarily about my English classes, but this applies in Social Studies as well.

We set criteria, we create rubrics, we examine exmplars, I provide ongoing feedback. Clearly, I still am not doing something critical to the process.

Many students still consider education, ‘doneness’, as in, “Have I done enough to pass, or get a B, or get an A”? When this is the case, the assessment is probably as useful and worthwhile as if I had just piled it up measured it with a ruler.

But I don’t use that method. I spend untold hours in careful assessment. Well, let’s be clear; I do count the hours, and they are more than I can physically and mentally bear, particularly when they feel, in least in some ways, a waste of time.

I love assessment. I love teaching skills, content, and inquiry. I enjoy reading student projects and writing and providing feedback. What I find agonizing is how often my feedback goes unimplemented, and how infrequently students do a good job on self-assessment. I ask for it, frequently. The students don’t know how to do it, or don’t do it, or don’t value it. They must, and the quality of that process will be part of the portfolio assessment they will do themselves.

Of course, I have to value it, and teach it, and assess it.

I am going to change some assessment routines, in particular, end of semester routines.

Next year, I will be implementing a portfolio approach to summative assessment, and it will directed and guided by the students. I will drop whatever elements of my courses I can in order to achieve this, because it will need to be completed well before the end of the semester.

Students should be very clear and able to determine the quality of the work they have completed and what they need to work on next time – as long as I do not accept personal responsibility for doing the summative assessment.

No mystery. The power of assessment will be where it belongs – in the student’s control and understanding. They shouldn’t have to drop by later to “see what I got”.

For English, in particular, I plan to put together a portfolio on large card stock. There will be three categories, Reading, Writing, and Oral Language. Students will collect artifacts representing their best learning in each category throughout the semester or year. They will reflect on product and process in both a written form and in an oral interview.

Anybody have anything like this? Advice? Routines?

Driving for winter conditions. Huh?

Today, I drove with my son two hours, one way, on winter roads in order to access health care. The conditions were certainly not as bad as in the photo above. However, we had some blowing snow, some compact snow and ice, and changing temperatures.

As we began our return journey, I saw a digital sign which exhorted us not to drink and drive, and also to drive for winter conditions. I wondered why the sign couldn’t be more explicit. The City of Prince George is assuming that people know what driving for winter conditions actually means. I understand that it seems self-evident that this means people should slow down and create more space between themselves and other users of the road, but I actually think some people don’t really know. How many times have I seen a vehicle tailgating a logging truck, which is spewing wet sand and snow, kilometre after kilometre. They aren’t there waiting to pass. They stay there the whole way between towns. Their windshield wipers are going like mad and they can’t see anything but the back of that truck. They are wasting windshield washer, at least, and will be in a collision if the truck hits a moose, at worst.

Situations like these remind me that common sense doesn’t exist. Only learning does.

Information only becomes common by being shared. I should phone the city and ask them to change the sign to Don’t drink and drive, please don’t tailgate, slow down, watch for ice in shaded areas.

Don’t risk other people’s lives. How about that one? Some of them, (and now, I am just expressing some personal rage), need to be told not to pass on a double-freaking line on a friggin’ hill. Seriously.

I have assumed too frequently that students understand the vocabulary I use in my instruction. One time, I asked the question, What conclusions can you draw? As I wondered around the classroom, students asked me what picture it was they were supposed to draw.

As a teacher, I have made the serious mistake of not making learning outcomes or product expectations clear. This led to projects and assignments that were a flat-out waste of everyone’s time and almost worthless as an assessment.

Fortunately for me, I have a wonderful network of colleagues and access to quality professional development. I have learned, and continue to learn about formative assessment, so that strong pedagogy becomes common in my classroom.

When we construct learning expectations together, we make them common. When students engage in assessing their own performance, these learning outcomes are again made explicit.

Then, we can ‘drive for success’.