Assessment for Learning

In the twenty-first century classroom,

Five key strategies

There were five key strategies mentioned in the video, “Assessment for Learning”. First, clarifying, understanding and sharing learning intentions. This means showing examples of work with different qualities, such as the ability to analyze, communicate, conceptualize, manage information and be meta-cognitive. Exit tickets were mentioned as being a good way to monitor student learning at the end of a lesson. I felt this one was the most ambiguous and ironically, I wish they would have given more examples of what this could mean. I think using learning strategies in front of your students and showing them how you process each step is useful and important for students to see.

The second strategy mentioned was engineering effective classroom discussions, tasks and activities that elicit evidence of learning. The video suggested using multi-participant questions where students can all answer the question on a mini white board. It also suggested a no hands up policy for their engagement in discussions a little better, but I teach 8-10 year olds who would talk over each other all the time without more structure, limiting the effectiveness of the conversation for learning. The video also highlighted flipped classrooms as an effective strategy because it allows answering questions. I’m not sure if I agree with this one completely. Older kids are able to monitor class time to be used for discussion and meaningful activities rather than having a large portion of the class taken up with lecture. I am very interested in this idea and want to give it a try in a few of my classes. I have a few students that have no internet access at home, which I know is not really an excuse because there are public libraries everywhere, but I also know the parents might not make that effort and I don’t want to put those students at a disadvantage.

The third strategy was to provide feedback that moves learning forward. This could be as simple as encouraging students to support their arguments with examples. They also mentioned Two Stars and a Wish where teachers state two things they liked about the student’s work and one thing that needed improvement. I strongly believe this strategy is integral to effective learning. Most students don’t care that much about work after it is completed because it is given a number value without any real suggestions on improvement. I know that I improved the most as a student in my writing when my teachers wrote specific things to work on or encouraged specific traits in my writing.

The fourth strategy was to activate students as learning resources for each other. Teachers can use checklists to support feedback students give to each other. They can also use the red, yellow, green strategy, which I loved. Students self-designate how well they understand the material. Greens get it and they can teach Reds, who don’t understand it very well. Yellows have some understanding, but are not confident they fully understand what is being taught and the teacher can work with that group. I love this because it’s a good way for students to hear what was taught in a different way through a peer and it’s a good visual for the teacher to see to ensure that everyone understands before moving on. Teaching a large group is difficult, so enlisting students to be helpers is a great idea.

The last strategy was to activate students as owners of their own learning. You could do See Three Before Me to encourage students to use other resources at their disposal before asking for help from the teacher—another great strategy when you have a large class. You can also have students keep a log to reflect on their learning. I do this with my students every Friday. They must write a letter to their parents telling them what they learned that week, what was exciting to them and what they are struggling with. Parents (in theory) are supposed to write back to their child over the weekend, thus involving parents in their child’s education. However, I end up having most parents “forget” to write to their child and then the student’s letters contain heart-breaking statements like, “Please write back to me!” or “I hope you read this!”. Still, it is a good tool for the student to reflect on their learning.

I think formative assessment is every bit as important (if not more) as summative assessment. Formative assessment is timelier because it usually gives pretty immediate feedback on how students are learning. It can be tricky incorporating it at first because most of us grew up with very little formative assessments in school to use as a reference point, but it really is just about establishing it as a regular practice in your classroom. I have been working on including pre-assessments more often in my teaching to better differentiate learning from the outset of the lesson. It requires more flexibility as a teacher, but I believe that’s a 21st century skill that needs to be developed in teachers anyway! Summative assessments are only as useful as what they are measuring. All too often, summative assessments don’t measure what is actually being taught, or the level of thinking that needs to be addressed for true learning to take place. Summative assessments seem more often geared as assessments of learning instead of for learning.

That being said, it is important that both kinds of assessments are used effectively in the classroom to ensure learning. At the beginning of a new concept or unit, I try to always pre-assess students. Some of my favorites to use are 4-square, prediction, concept maps, and writing prompts. These allow me to quickly see the general level of learning students are at, make groups using this information, and then adapt the lesson to meet the needs of the students right away. On-going assessment is equally important. The Green, Yellow, Red example mentioned in the video is an excellent example of pausing the lesson to get an idea of how students comprehend the material. Many times, summative assessment is only seen as a marker of student achievement, but it is also a marker for teacher effectiveness. Summative assessments are also seen as the “end” of a lesson or unit of learning. However, they should also be used to continually seek information on who gets it and who does not. If a child bombs a test or an assignment, they should still be given the opportunity to master the material before being forced to move on to the next idea.