Archive | Assessment RSS feed for this section

“I wish school curriculums let students create more.”

12 Nov

Last month, I observed a few classes at Lakeside, an independent school in Seattle, WA. There, teachers are moving toward, what they call, a playground model in which students are encouraged to take risks and experiment. While they of course still have a curriculum that they follow, students do have freedom to do things like design, tweak, and retry their own lab experiments and to play with programming software to figure out how chaos and order are a part of an author’s writing. It sounds awesome, doesn’t it?

Of course these things are not total anomalies in public education, but with increasing demands to produce evidence of student achievement, time dedicated to trying new things and allowing students the freedom to make and learn from mistakes can sometimes take a back seat to things like test prep. What seems more amazing is that students recognize that trend as well. They’re not naive in that they know acing an AP exam will put them in good standings for college admissions, but they also seem to crave more choice and more time to play.

This week, I’m reading through student reflections, in which they discuss their greatest takeaways from working with the ILP and the work in subsequent classes that makes them feel most accomplished. Here is one that seems to encapsulate what many of his peers are also thinking:

“NO other class has let me create my own work from the ground up, and this vertical growth has been enjoyable in that I have learned how to independently pursue relevant knowledge and also how to put my independent creative vision into this discovery of knowledge. Especially in my narrative writing. I found this unit to be most enjoyable because of this promotion of free creation. I don’t imagine I’ll get to use this skill again because AP classes are intensely geared towards taking a test, not promoting the free ideas and creation that all student all really need. I wish more people realized that creation is more important than just doing activities, like during this English class and in other classes as well (world language, especially), and that’s my greatest takeaway. I wish school curriculums let students create more…. This unit has made me realize that the current system of education desperately needs to reform for more independent creation.” (10th grade Honors Student)

The student’s terms, “vertical growth” and “free creation” really strike me because I see them echoed in the pleas of many other students.

During our STEM class, my partner and I developed detailed instructions for our peers to build piece of a steam engine. We failed! All of those red marks are questions from our peers. We tried again after knowing more about our audience's needs. The blue marks indicate our 2nd attempt with a focus on spacial dimensions.

During our STEM class, my partner and I developed detailed instructions for our peers to build a piece of a steam engine. We failed! All of those red marks are questions from our peers. So, we tried again after learning more about our audience’s needs. The blue marks indicate our 2nd attempt with a focus on spacial dimensions and different perspectives.

Of course, there are many, many teachers who are doing amazing things with student creation, but it seems increasingly saved for elective classes in public education. When I took a professional development course on STEM across the curriculum at my school, I had the pleasure of experiencing what those students are yearning for. While setting us off on a project of our own creation, Design and Applied Technology teacher, Michael McFadden gave three pieces of wisdom that I couldn’t help but write down:

  • In the engineering process, students have to fail before they can start. It’s not until they fail and have to figure out why something didn’t work that they have a real problem to solve.
  • You’re never finished.
  • The two biggest requirements for any project–be engaged in the process and be as ambitious as you want.

This makes me wonder, especially in highly-tested subject areas or content-heavy courses, how can we do more to let our students explore, be ambitious, and engage in the process? How can we reconcile the need for grades on “finished” products if students are forever vertically growing? And how can we allow for students to learn from mistakes?

So What?

29 May

Too often, students don’t see the value in what they’re learning–there can be a disconnect between the meaning we want the students to walk away with and the meaning these incredible individuals make based on their own unique views and experiences. As students begin to take more control of their learning, it becomes impossible for us to design each student’s final assessment and absolutely vital for students to determine why their learning experience is important, not just to them but to their community, both local and global.

We call this final step of the Inquiry Learning Plan (ILP) the “So What?” and it serves as a way for students to apply knowledge and content and reflect back on the unit or class. You can see in the questions below that they’re really looking at the bigger picture of the unit–what is the essential lesson they’ve learned and how do they want to share it? Continue reading

Feedback and Assessments

12 May

One thing that I like about the course is how we do an activity based on a standard first to get feedback before we receive a grade on that standard. I like this because it gives us a chance to improve our work before we are graded on it. –10th grade honors English student

At the heart of the Inquiry Learning Plan (ILP) is individualized discovery and the goal of improvement. We want students to feel comfortable enough to take risks in areas that are historically weaker for them, and rather than punish them when they’re trying something for the first time, we want to make sure that their grades reflect what they’re capable of after learning takes place. That is why we use a lot of formative feedback; we give ungraded responses to student work that is designed to help them improve in specific skill and/or content areas while they are learning. Summative assessments–graded work that measures student knowledge and skills after learning–only occur at the end of each of our inquiry units. With the ILP, we use summative assessments to evaluate the final attempts at each standard. Continue reading

Acclimating Students to Self-Assessment

29 Apr

It’s pretty difficult to get someone to accurately self-assess, no matter what the circumstances. Too often we’re concerned with what someone else will think of our assessment, and our confidence levels (low or high) get in the way of letting us see our true abilities and accomplishments. Previously, when we asked students to tell us how they did on an assignment, usually one of three scenarios occurred:

  • they are unfairly hard on themselves
  • they inflate their grade because they “put a lot of work into it”
  • they’re so unclear about the criteria that they have no idea how to score their work

Our students were no exception, and we wanted to change that when we began implementing the Inquiry Learning Plan (ILP).

Getting students familiar with the assessment criteria contained in the standards is the first step in this process. However, in order to accurately assess, students need to become intimately familiar with the nuances of the standards and ways in which they can go beyond their basic requirements. Therefore, students generate their own rubrics for each of the standards, which we will then use to assess their activities.

To keep things simple, we give them a blank template with three categories: developing, proficient, and advanced proficient. We equate those to D-F range, C range, and A range, respectively. Proficient work, we tell them, is meeting the standard. Work in this range shows competency with the requirements of the standard. Advanced proficient should extend the standard, not just do more of it.  We discuss what it means to go beyond the requirements, not just to meet them.  Lastly, work that falls in the developing category might represent someone’s first attempt at the skill or content and, as a result, falls short of demonstrating proficiency. Of course, the rubrics are given feedback and approved before they are finalized; it is through this process that students internalize the standards that we introduced them to earlier and become intimately familiar with these skills.

The assessment process continues in student-led conferences during which students discuss the evidence of proficiency found in their activities and final assessment. It provides the opportunity for them to reflect upon and discuss what they intended to do versus what the evidence shows. By articulating any gaps, they can recognize areas for improvement, and by pointing to examples of their work that meets the standard requirements, students can see real growth. This reflection is one of the keys to learning, and although it doesn’t specifically count toward a grade, it demonstrates to us a student’s understanding of a standard on a deeper level than the product alone ever could. Assessment becomes more than a final grade; it is a self-reflection, an opportunity for students to learn from an assessment so they can transfer skills and knowledge, and a discussion of learning itself.

Using Diagnostics to Set Goals and Select Standards

6 Apr

The Inquiry Learning Plan (ILP) structure provides an opportunity for students to design their learning around skill areas that need the most improvement. In order to do that, students must understand their strengths and weaknesses so that they can determine which skills and content to focus on. Diagnostics can give students and teachers a baseline from which to work. Even though teachers center instructions on standards, we rarely make them apparent to students.  The diagnostics serve as an “initiation to standards though I don’t immediately label it that way.  The nitty gritty of the standards comes later. Initially, I tell students that there are a few general skills and content elements to the curriculum that I need to assess throughout the course. (For me as an English teacher, they’re reading, writing, and speaking/listening–the exact categories of skills outlined in the Common Core Content Standards for Language Arts Literacy.)  Students simply need to know that they will be responsible for working toward improvement in those areas.

I introduce the idea of diagnostic assessments to get a pulse on their abilities. Traditionally, diagnostics mimic final assessments as closely as possible in both structure and content. However, when using the ILP, the teacher may not know what the final product will look like ahead of time. Therefore, the diagnostic must cover the content and skills that the students will be responsible for knowing by the end of the unit/course. It should provide enough items in each content or skill area to get a strong reading of students’ abilities. I like to align the assessments with the standards and group questions by standard area so that the students and I can easily determine strengths and areas for improvement. With my English classes, I have three separate diagnostics. I ask students to actively read a text and answer questions to assess their reading skills. The next day, they discuss the same text in small groups, during which I assess their speaking and listening abilities. Lastly they write an essay that connects this text to their summer reading in order to assess their writing and language skills. In classes without a summer reading assignment, I ask students to find an article that connects to or refutes the ideas in the reading diagnostic text, and they write about those texts. The diagnostic assessments speak to the exact reading, speaking/listening, writing, and language skills that I will summatively assess at the end of the first unit. To kill two birds with one stone, I also connect all three of these to the content and themes of the first unit.

Continue reading

%d bloggers like this: