Effective classroom teachers successfully integrate four critical skills into their classroom:
1. Content Planning
4. Classroom Culture/Management
In this post, I'll describe some of the elements of effective assessment.
Excellent teachers know that it is not enough to have great plans, interesting content, and engaging activities. Teachers need to check frequently to see if students are understanding the learning, that they are achieving the learning targets for the class. The purpose of this on-going assessment is to help the teacher focus the students on the learning, with the goal that students would become more self-directive. All education is essentially self-education, and teachers can move students toward this goal by giving frequent feedback about where students are with respect to the desired learning, and then showing students how to use that feedback to improve their learning.
This assessment must be involuntary—that is, teachers need to check on all students, frequently, whether or not these students wished to be checked on. It is not enough to simply ask the class as a whole “do you understand?” or “are there any questions?” Frequently students will not know whether they understand—they may think they do when in fact they don’t. Some students will cheerfully volunteer to answer every attempt at ‘broadcast’ assessment. So, teachers need to build in means of checking on all students’ understanding on a regular basis. There are a wide variety of quick and easy ways to do this: cold calling, exit passes, summary writing, pair-shares, sticky notes, short quizzes, white boards and more. Written assignments and more complex assignments also provide opportunities for teachers to check student understanding. What’s important is that this occurs during the learning so that the teacher and the student have time to act on it, to make adjustments or even reteach, if needed. Feedback given at the end of a unit of learning in the form of a test is only minimally useful.
This feedback is valuable for teachers, but it is also important for students to receive feedback on where they are in their learning. Teachers should frequently give feedback to students that is descriptive and specific. Expressions like “excellent!” or “good job!”, although perhaps gratifying to students, don’t tell students what they are doing well and what they need to improve in order to reach the learning target. (Interestingly, praise, when not connected to the learning, can actually hinder learning. Students can get the message that they are ‘smart’ and that becomes their focus—proving they’re start—rather than maintaining a mindset toward learning that emphasizes taking risks toward growth.) An effective practice is to separate grades from the descriptive feedback as much as possible, as students will often be distracted by the grade and will tend to ignore the comments.
As mentioned above, students should be given time to do something with the feedback they receive. They should be given time and be directed to focus revision on a few items of quality at a time. There should be time scheduled for students to self-reflect about their learning, to set specific goals, to track and share their learning. All of this takes precious class time, time teachers may not think they have for such luxuries. But the long-term pay-off of prioritizing these things is that students will increasingly take responsibility for their own learning, and that is, ultimately, what we’re hoping for.
-There is frequent and involuntary checking for understanding (formative assessment)
-Feedback to students is descriptive and specific
-Students are given time to act on the information from the formative assessment
-Students have opportunities for self-assessment and goal setting
-Students are directed to focus revisions on a few items of quality at a time
-Students are given time for self-reflection about their learning
-Students are required to track their own learning
-Students are given opportunities to share their learning