Saturday, 3 January 2015

Revolutionist or Forward thinking: Thoughts on Assessment

Today I had a very interesting conversation on Twitter. Now I want to preface this with, this type of conversation has been happening for quite some time and it is a conversation that will continue. But today's conversation made me think.

The conversation was on Assessment practise and it actually stemmed from a recent article in the globe and Mail.
I read this article earlier on in the day and have been stewing over this thought for quite some time. This led me to tweet this in response:

P.S: I did mean to type Write instead of right.

Well this sparked an interesting conversation with John Walkup, based on his twitter profile a professor of Cognitive Rigor ( I apologize John if I messed that up). See the full conversation here on my storify:

The conversation was quite amazing and sparked many thoughts about self assessment and assessment as a whole.  Would love to hear your thoughts on the debate?

Overall, the themes (in my opinion [not trying to be bias here]) was that John was questioning me using student self reflection as the final mark in the reporting system.

To me reports is a task that I have to do as a teacher. In fact I hate them. I think they serve no purpose (in their present state) except to inform parents about the progress that their child made during the term. What I find even more redundant is that many parents don't even read the comments that teachers write because all they look at is the grades. Now let's tie it back to the globe and mail article. They suggested that grades hinder learning. And with this I agree. 

Learning is a process. When all we are consumed about is a letter at the end of the class we are not worrying about what we are learning just the outcome. If we focus solely on the learning then so will students. This is why I suggested letting my students write their own reports. Now of course I wouldn't be handing in that as the final assessment, as first of all I don't think my principal or school board would let me but also their needs to a some sort of evaluation from the teacher but what is wrong with incorporating their thinking into the reports.  How meaningful would that be? How engaging would it be to see their thoughts and reflections incorporated with my comments? How many parents would spend more time reading the comments because its their child's work?

These are all important questions we need to be asking.

Now as I have said before this is a topic that I have been thinking hard about for the past couple of years. I recently wrote a blog post about it called: Reflection on Assessment.  This year my daughter started school. It has been a very interesting ride.  It has made me really reflect as a teacher on how I am communicating to my students and to my parents. Assessment has been one of those key areas.

For me assessment is about the learning process. Children, like adults, learn at different rates and stages. Learning is not linear but it still is learning. When we impose certain milestones on children there is a sense of failure that goes with it for not meeting those standards. Yes failure is good but losing self esteem over it is not. At the same time it is fine to have standards as long as children know how they learn and that they will achieve those standards eventually. For this to happen, students need to be taught self reflection. It is a very hard thing for students and adults to learn. It starts with being honest with yourself and those around you. Yes as John pointed out their will be bias in a reflection but if we are honest with ourselves then the bias is limited. Students need to see that reflecting allows you to set goals, make plans to reach those goals and then finally obtain them.

In my classroom assessment is ongoing. We have daily conferences with students as they learn, every center and lesson has a reflecting piece that students do through Vlogs or ticket out the door activities. Students have created online portfolios that they share their work and treat it like a resume of learning. Also at the end of every term, we have a sharing session with our parents. Here parents are invited to see their child's work and learn together with them. We play math games, do lessons and the students share their portfolios.  With the help of GAFE (google apps for education) rubrics and success criteria are shared with parents and students. Their assignments are marked with feedback and comments and the students reflect right on the assignment back to me. As I said it is about the learning.

Now the reason why this talk resonated with me so much is John's final statement to me:

So I guess my question is:

1) Is this revolutionary talk? or just forward thinking?
2) Am I out in left field to think that assessment practises and how we report our progress needs to change?
3) How do we make these changes so that they don't seem so radical?
4) What are your assessment practise? 

As always would love to hear your thoughts.

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