I believe that assessment should be intertwined with the learning cycle, which the Saskatchewan curriculum describes as constructing understanding:    Constructing understanding is a process that is reached through student engagement in active inquiry. The curriculum document states that “inquiry learning is not a step-by-step process, but rather a cyclical process, with various phases of the process being revisited and rethought as a result of students’ discoveries, insights, and co- construction of new knowledge.” This process includes student self assessment, as well as formative assessment by teachers, at each step of the process, from determining what learners know and wonder about the topic at the initiation of learning, to reflecting and revising understandings to inform next steps during learning, and repeating this process again as we determine if growth of understanding has occurred. I believe that if learners are supported to feel that the collection of their learning data is partly their own responsibility, and that assessment is mainly for their own use and purposes, the learners will feel like partners in this process, becoming able to appreciate assessment as a series of tools and strategies, be they diagnostic, formative or summative, that are employed to support and encourage their achievement. I believe that it is essential that assessment should not be experienced as a punitive measure, but rather as an interactive process of gathering pertinent information to guide next steps.

One important step in scaffolding students to be self motivated and self determined learners is to include them as partners their own education. Eminent educator Dr. Willow Brown has developed the Quick Check Strategy, she describes the teacher’s role with the following steps in her 2008 article, Young Children Assess Themselves: The power of the quick check strategy:

– Helping children set or accept and record individualized goals;

– Teaching, modeling, and planning ways the children may progress toward goals;

– Showing the children evidence of their progress with carefully kept records;

– Helping the children celebrate goal achievement and attribute positive feelings to their own efforts. (Brown, 2008, p.15)

I find this tool to be simple, yet powerful, and very much in line with philosophy of education. Brown cites evidence to support the assertion that self assessment is an effective way to support our learners self confidence and capacity to engage in learning. She highlights research from Schunk (1995) that emphasizes “the importance of helping children develop an internal locus of control, a sense that success results from their own ability and effort.” In subsequent writings Schunk went on to proclaim that educators must “help children develop the skill of self-monitoring and give them opportunities for its use,” and furthermore, educators should “design learning environments that give students information on their progress and teach them to set learning goals in response to feedback” (p.15). In an era of increased pressure for educators to provide data to justify their existence, combined with “No Zero” and “No Fail” policies implemented by school divisions across North America, often perceived to imply that students are permitted to neglect submitting assignments or completing in class learning tasks, it becomes imperative for educators to find ways to support students to find their school work meaningful and relevant to their own lives. Brown and Schunk have delineated a few real and tangible ways that educators can meaningfully engage students in their learning, while also holding them accountable for their efforts, which are very much in line with my personal philosophy regarding education in general and assessment in particular. Dr. Dylan Williams, a recognized expert in formative assessment, provides guidance and inspiration to me on ways I can support my learners to become owners of their own learning in this video:

He describes how learners who assess their own work, as well as that of their peers, achieve twice as well as those being schooled and assessed following a more traditional model. He recommends that teachers should only be assessing 25% of students work, leaving the lions share to the students themselves. Of course, students must be scaffolded through this process as well, providing rubrics that delineate specific expectations for an assignment helps, as does offering exemplars of the type of work teachers expect. Additionally, teachers should provide tools for the learners to frame the process, to this end,  Williams suggests “two stars and a wish” which is a method for learners to self and peer assess, by basically stating two things that were well done, and one thing to be improved. As a student, I value highly the authentic feedback I receive on my work, because it helps me to gain self efficacy as learner in relation to what I have done well, and also provides me with next steps I need to take to improve what I have not done well. As an educator I plan to provide my learners with authentic descriptive feedback which is relevant to their learning objectives and relatable to their own experiences. In order to do this, I will need to have assessment data that has been triangulated from a variety of sources, including conversations with students, observations of students and products of student work. One of my personal goals as a teacher candidate is to learn to ask better questions.  Dr. Dylan Williams also insists that teachers must learn to ask good questions, questions that not only provide data for assessment purposes, but also to cause the learners to engage in higher level thinking, which will in turn deepen their understanding of the topic. Williams contends that students who engage in answering teacher questions are actually increasing their IQ, concurrently, learners who avoid engaging with questioning are not seeing these benefits. He recommends the “no hands rule”, pulling names from a jar, and mini white boards on which learners can write their answers and the teacher can scan at a glance, as methods to involve all learners in the conversation.

Pedagogical Documentation offers an approach that is a useful guide for teachers regarding the multifaceted process of questioning, observing, documenting and interpreting the data gained within a framework that emphasizes the data as much as the context and the relationships therein.

Products of student work may be found in many forms, including projects, journals, worksheets, tests, reports etc. With all of this variety of evidence, I foresee that I will be able to make valid assessments related to my learners progress, if I then share the information gleaned through these assessments with the learners in the form of authentic and descriptive feedback, we will be both have a clearer vision of how to proceed.

Observations, conversations and products may also be assessed summatively in order to apply a grade at the end of the learning cycle. This is where the data collected during assessment is evaluated, and subsequently reported– to the learners and their their families, and to other parties who have a vested interest the learning outcomes of pupils, such as other teachers, the school division and province. This is the aspect of the assessment process that I am finding the most challenging to grapple with, as virtually all of the evidence based research we learn about in our university education courses emphasize how formative assessment has such great positive impact on outcomes, and how student ownership of learning is the engine that drives achievement, is set aside in order to meet the requirements of outside interests. I understand that all of the parties listed above, especially learners families, have a right to know how their learner is progressing in relation to the objectives laid out by the province; and I also understand that as public school teacher, I will be in the employ of all of those interest groups, and as such I am answerable to each of them. In order to reconcile these disparate requirements, When I am a teacher will endeavour to share the data which I have gathered diagnostically and formatively, during student led conferences as well as through private social media with families, in order to illuminate the number grade assigned summatively, as it relates to their individual learners progress. Families, teachers, schools, division authorities and the province also like to be able to compare the progress of learners in relation to other learners, through various types of standardized tests. Although it was not immediately apparent to me that standardized tests would be congruent with my educational assessment philosophy, I have come to view these assessments as having merit because of the useful and accessible data they can provide for teachers and all interested parties. I now see that my problem is not with standardized tests, but rather the misuse of the data collected, such as was observed in the American policy, No Child Left Behind, where information collected through standardized tests was used punitively against teachers, schools and communities by taking away funding from the students who needed it the most. Whereas, if we use the information we collect using the many high quality standardized tests available today, diagnostically, to determine where learners are when learning begins, as well as summatively to discover what learning has occurred , as one component of a comprehensive assessment approach, we will be better prepared to guide our learners towards achievement of learning outcomes.

My personal philosophy around assessment is emerging as being learner centered, data driven, with an emphasis on the process as much as the result. I believe that if we provide learners with opportunities to be self motivated and self determined in their learning they will achieve higher results in their learning endeavors; to do this we must give them agency and ownership of their learning, offer them opportunities to choose the outcomes they focus on, and provide them with instruction and tools for self assessment in order that they may become able to claim personal responsibility for their learning. Data related to student attainment of learning outcomes is extremely valuable when we use this information to inform our instruction, to build positive team relationships with families, but most importantly if it is shared with the largest stakeholder in this equation, which is of course the learner themselves. The end goal of any educational project is always that learners will be supported to achieve and grow in ways that are meaningful and essential for each individual; If we offer our students opportunities to direct their their learning endeavors (within the scope of curriculum outcomes), and take ownership of that process from goal setting, planning, engaging in learning, and assessing their own progress, and if we share all pertinent data gathered in relation to their individual learning goals with them, then the result will most certainly be positive and meaningful learning.

Photo credit Nissa Shiell

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