I went to a really great Professional Development workshop today. The presenter was Sandra Herbst and the topic was Assessment for Learning, and in particular the ideas in Anne Davies’ book Making Classroom Assessment Work. I have to admit I am often somewhat cynical about the value of one off pro-d that tries to cater to an audience that spans the entire K-12 teaching spectrum, but in this case I was pleasantly surprised. The entire day was very engaging and thought provoking and I left with 8 pages of scribbled notes that I now hope to condense down into a few big ideas that I can start to apply in my classroom.
The 3 themes or guiding questions that framed the workshop were:
- How do students “picture” quality?
- How do students work with the language of assessment?
- How do students self-monitor towards success?
One of the big ideas that really resonated with me was the need to increase the number of leading indicators of learning (formative) and not the number of lagging indicators (summative). In other words we need to extend the time spent assessing learning BEFORE we decide to evaluate learning. In addition there needs to be enough information in the assessment to help the student move their learning forward; “the next step needs to be one the kids can picture themselves being at”. She asked the very valid question “why do we count the first thing our students do?”; this really sunk home with me as I am in the process of marking some of my student’s SCRATCH projects, and currently I am (was?) planning on counting their marks from the early projects where they lost marks for doing things they had obviously learned how to do by the final project.
To help student’s “picture quality” we were shown examples of schools that have made it a priority to collect samples of student work and use them to create a series of samples that show writing progression from Kindergarten to Grade 5 (although interestingly a grade number was not assigned to any of the writing samples as it is a developmental, not grade imposed, skill). I wish could embed the videos in here of elementary students talking about a row of samples on the wall of their classroom. They knew exactly where they were in the progression and why and exactly how they were going to get to the next step. It was also interesting to hear that the creation of these collections of samples was inevitably a contentious process within the schools involved; I guess because it forced the teachers involved to agree on a common set of standards.
My biggest light bulb moment came when we were introduced to the notion of co-constructing criteria with our students. The quote I wrote down at this point was “you need to know what the ‘target’ is or you can’t hit the target. A 4-step process was recommended.
- Brainstorm a list of criteria with the class (I already do this)
- Sort and Categorize the criteria (this was the light bulb moment for me. My co-constructed lists of criteria have never been all that successful and in hindsight that was because they had no order or ranking of importance. The process presented to us was brilliant and included the student’s in ranking their ideas and grouping them into broad categories. At the end of the process there are only 3-5 categories the students need to keep in mind as they are working, rather than a long list of 20 things)
- Make a T-Chart. The purpose of this chart is to match the categories created in part 2 to Curriculum Outcomes and so help the students to “understand the language of assessment”.
The final part of the day was spent looking at the kinds of things that we should consider to be valid measurements of assessment in our classrooms. One of the messages here was that teachers need to take back their right to exercise their professional judgement. The context here was that often when trying to convert a comment based assessment into a percentage there is a lot of judgement involved. In no way was she justifying the use of percentage grades but she recognised that they are a reality at least in High School (In her District they only start giving percentage grades in Grade 9 – wow) and that often the need to produce a percentage grade leads to the “grade book” approach to assessment because it is considered more objective. In reality tests are as subjective as any other metric in that the questions on the test are chosen by an individual and represent that particular individual’s ideas about what it is important to know.
The messy picture above is my attempt to document the model that was shared for making sure we collect a balanced range of evidence of learning. It is important to make sure that this evidence is reliable (repeatable and from various sources) and valid (assess what it is supposed to assess). The three kinds of evidence suggested were observations, conversations (including peer assessment and journal entries) and products. I know that these are all things most teachers would say they do, but if I am honest with myself I know that I tend to rely heavily on the products for my evidence. I am excited to try and plan for more of the other kinds of evidence as I start to think about my term 3 Math units.
There was more but I think those are the big ideas. Like I said at the start, it was a really great Professional Development workshop.