Monday, April 21, 2014

A fresh look at Assessment

Just before the holiday weekend, I had the honour of participating in a workshop led by Sandra Herbst on Assessement.

The first thing she did impressed me the most.  She introduced herself to each participant (well over 100 teachers and administrators), looked each of us in the eye, and sincerely welcomed us.

She later went on to say that in her school district, there is an expectation that EVERY STUDENT is greeted by name and welcomed EVERY DAY.  It made me think about that quotation by Maya Angelou  about how people remember how you made them feel beyond anything else.  Sandra emphasized that many students in her District may only encounter a caring adult at school, not in their home lives.  It made me recall a time in the not-so-distant past when  I would dive right into the day's lesson just as students arrived so that we could "cover the material."  What a missed opportunity!

It's so simple and yet so profound.  I think about what an impact it would make on the climate of a classroom and a school if we took a few minutes every day to ensure that our students felt welcome and valued.

I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.       --Maya Angelou

Here are a few other ideas that resonated the most with me:

  • "assessment" comes from the Latin to "sit beside"-->we need to spend more time observing and conversing with our students; prompting their thinking and giving them feedback about next steps--not just testing them and moving on.
  • "evaluating" is about placing a judgement on work which, more often than not, stops the learning
  • technology is a tool that can help us to find out more about what a student "knows" that goes beyond "pen and paper" tasks
  • some tech tools can help us to capture student conversations--she highlighted Quick Voice Pro and Voki--I have used Educreations for this purpose as well
  • being transparent about what is expected (Success Criteria) is crucial to students knowing how to achieve success
  • if we focus on learning, students will achieve far better on standardized tests than if we focus on "preparing" kids for tests
  • understanding a student (learning needs, social needs, etc...) will help teachers make decisions that will help move learning forward
  • it is essential to establish what "quality work looks like" --> then, when students submit their work, it is important that they identify what parts they believe to be examples of quality in their own submission (Use notes in Google Slides or Comments in Google Docs)
  • A "visual continuum" can help empower student to create quality work: Basically the teacher posts several examples of work that become incrementally more sophisticated--a student can identify where his work is on the continuum and what more is needed to get to the next stage--there are no marks or levels at all on the examples, and students are told that even beyond the "best" example, there is other criteria that could make it better. It is important that the examples are not always posted worst to best.

Throughout the workshop we saw videos of teachers and students learning together, we engaged in some high-impact activities, and had excellent discussions at our table.  I will certainly be taking this information into my daily practice.

Much of this work echoed the research done by Carol Dweck in the area of Growth Mindsets.

More information about Sandra Herbst can be found here.  She can also be seen on Twitter @Sandra_Herbst

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