Reflecting on where I started.
Back in May, I began a deep dive into assessment by identifying three things I believe to be true of all assessments. As my understanding has grown, so have the things I know to be true. I have been reflecting along the way but would like to use this post to place these reflections in one place and identify some changes that have happened along the way. Readings and coursework have also helped widen my understanding beyond the walls of early childhood education to reach conclusions that are applicable at any level. My initial believes are in bold at the start of each section, followed by a revised statement of beliefs and an analysis of how and why these believes have changed or stayed the same.
Original Belief: Assessment involves at least 2 parties.
Updated Belief: Assessment is all about feedback.
My original belief was strongly rooted in my early childhood background because the assessments I used in preschool consisted primarily of observations and talks with children or their parents. As long as the conversation was ongoing, progress and feedback could be discussed and recorded that kept all parties informed of current abilities and areas needing more practice. This dialogue is important and certainly a valid part of assessment, but there are two examples that caused me to revise this statement.
First, I neglected the importance of self-assessment. In Hattie and Timperley (2007) state that a “learner can look up the answer to evaluate the correctness of a response. Feedback thus is a ‘consequence’ of performance.” (p. 81). I reflected on this in unit 3 within the context of early education and gave an example of “when a student watches another child ride a bicycle and desires to master the same skill, their own attempts offer immediate feedback as to whether they have mastered the goal or not. Additional feedback from the teacher to “push your foot down” adds additional feedback to help the child ride the bicycle.” In this scenario, a student knows what the goal is and how to achieve it. During the ‘performance,’ the child knows if they are able to ride the bike based on how far they are able to travel. They also gain understanding of their proficiency- proficient riders pedal faster, navigate obstacles, maintain their energy, and enjoy the experience. These self-assessments are an important source of data to the child about how they are doing and what they need to improve.
Additionally, I did not account for the benefits of game-based assessments where the learner is engaged with a software or game which is providing the feedback and collecting assessment data. At the end of unit 6, I concluded that “you can get feedback from a game without another individual being present… [and] it might be more accurate to describe [game-based assessments] as a marker on a journey. Some are more significant than others, but they all provide a snapshot of where the learner is in a particular moment.” When games are set up with learning objectives in mind, they can be a meaningful assessment of a student’s current level of understanding. Games also provide an alternative setting for applying skills. The ideas and concepts that have been taught in the classroom must be applied to the game in order to succeed. When the internal and external rhetoric of the game matches real-life
Original Belief: Assessment should happen as part of a cycle
Updated Belief: Assessment should be timely with opportunities to correct errors and reflect on growth.
When I first thought of assessment, I reflected on the student portfolios we keep in early education. We would collect work samples at specific intervals and look for evidence of growth in certain skills. However, “one aspect that stood out to me as I read about [Understanding by Design in unit 2] was the expectation of a performance task to synthesize learning and demonstrate transfer of knowledge from lesson to real-world situations.” As I learn more about the function and outcome of different types of assessment (particularly summative), I have come to the conclusion that it is less important for assessment to be ongoing, but that students are taught how to take the information they are given, correct their errors, and have an opportunity to demonstrate growth.
My initial belief was rooted in the benefits of portfolios and that belief still stands. At the end of unit 4, I shared that “keeping a portfolio or other digital collection of work, complete with self-reflections and teacher comments can result in a collection which longitudinally shows a students’ strengths, areas of accomplishment, and demonstrates where progress has been made as a result of a cycle of revision.” Rewording this belief to focus on timely reflection and opportunities to correct errors addresses some of the constraints of portfolios- time. I have seen the effects of trying to keep too many samples or because a certain number of samples are required. Often, the need for recordkeeping detracts from the time that should be used for correction and growth.
Time isn’t the only constraint on quality assessment; technology can also alter the way teachers assess. In unit 5, we looked at the affordances and constraints of course management software (CMS) and how the available features could be leveraged for assessment. In this unit, I realized that “not all CMS can return to a single assignment for cycles of revision and feedback. You may have to step to other tools to manage this and just place final grades in the CMS.” Even though teachers may know that they need to give students the opportunity to make corrections and grow from their mistakes, the technology used to manage course work doesn’t always make this easy.
Original Belief: Assessment should leave the student feeling proud of their accomplishments and with an understanding of specific areas for improvement.
Updated Belief: No change.
I had not given assessment a lot of thought up until now. Learning about the history in unit 1 has helped shaped my beliefs in the past several months. In the industrial era, assessments were a way to efficiently get employees into jobs they would be best suited to perform. The motivation wasn’t learning, it was efficiency. As our motivations change, so should our assessments. Sheppard (2000) upheld that “dominant theories of the past continue to operate as the default framework affecting and driving current practices and perspectives.” Most assembly lines are automated now and the tasks that were essential in the past are now performed by robots. The skills our society needs now are founded in creativity, design, leadership, collaboration, communication, and other 21st century skills.
I still believe it is important to identify specific areas for improvement. A key takeaway from unit 3 “was that feedback requires the teacher to explicitly state the goal and provide enough feedback so that the student has a metacognitive understanding of how far they are from achieving the goal and what steps to take to get there.” If I improve at communicating goals of lessons and use specifics to identify strengths and weaknesses, students will also grow in their ability to self-assess where they need to review and revise.
How do these beliefs impact my teaching?
It has become clear that effective assessments derive from well-planned lessons that begin with clear goals and an expectation of performance. When I begin lesson planning by identifying what mastery will look like and how I will assess these skills, then I am better able to plan lessons that work towards this outcome. So far, I see evidence of my new beliefs in two assessments I have created: a game assessment and a formative assessment.
As I built a game assessment on the life cycle of a caterpillar, I knew that I wanted students to identify each step of the life cycle, begin to understand environmental threats and predators, and to see the life cycle as a continuous cycle. To accomplish this, I designed a Twine game where students are told how to help their caterpillar grow and given choices to accomplish this goal. If all goes, well, the student sees the cycle continue to the emergence of a butterfly who proceeds to lay an egg and begin the game again. If a student makes poor choices, the caterpillar becomes part of the food chain.
This game upholds my beliefs about assessment through the game’s structure. The beginning of the game teaches you how to care for your caterpillar. If you deviate from these instructions, there are consequences and you are taken back to the egg hatching on the leaf. This gives the learner feedback that their decisions were not in the best interest of the caterpillar. Additionally, my belief that feedback should be timely and offer opportunities to correct errors is also evident in the structure of the game. If students choose to indulge in desserts, they receive a warning that their caterpillar has a stomachache. They receive another opportunity to revise their choice before continuing.
I created an I can do computer science checklist assessment for kindergarten and Grade 1 students to reflect on their growth in computer science skills through a set of hands-on activities. I designed this checklist to be administered at regular intervals during the year so that feedback will be timely, and students will be able to see which skills they need to continue practicing. By using a student-driven checklist, the student is expected to self-assess their progress against the goals. I also believe these hands-on tasks give students an opportunity to showcase their skills in a new context and by doing so, they gain pride in their accomplishments. Because the checklist facilitates a conversation between the teacher and students, feedback is part of the conversations.
I look forward to learning more about assessment as I develop as an educator and I am sure these beliefs will be redefined as time goes on. In all, I see evidence of areas where my beliefs have changed as I learned, I have taken opportunities to reflect and adjust my learning in each assignment’s revision, and I am proud of the learning that is reflected in this portfolio. These beliefs about assessment seem to hold up from both a teacher and a student perspective.
Hattie, J., & Timperley, H. (2007). The power of feedback. Review of Educational Research, 77(1), 81–112.
Shepard, L. (2000). The role of assessment in a learning culture. Educational Researcher, 29(7), 4-14.