mardi 29 mars 2011

Learning Target Alignment - Volante

The second of the principles from Volante's document is that of learning targets. As obvious as this one should be, we often fall short of communicating the "why" and the "how" of an assignment to our students. We know what we want them to do, but failure to communicate this results in lack of understanding, lack of confidence, and feeling of inadequacy from the student. Often students fail in our eyes by no fault of their own. Papers are marked up and when they get them back, students finally understand what we wanted in the first place, at which point it is too late.

OK, so how do we set things up so that we all gain? We have filtered the essential learning outcomes from the curriculum guides mandated by the province and have created a comprehensive cintinuum that flows from grade 5 to grade 8. Step one complete. The problem is we need to realize there are more steps after this one.

Damian Cooper talked about tiered assessment, a way of allowing all students to reach their potential by setting them up in a way where they have assignment expectations laid out in the detail needed for various levels of independence. The worries I have about handing out the same assignment guideline to all my students is that my less-motivated (or less capable) students do not attain the expected results because they need a more step by step approach. They need to be told exactly what to do - there can be no room for doubt if they are to succeed. The same is true for the very strong students who are selling themselves short by working to the guidelines - instead of to their potential. They need the freedom to allow their work to take them in new and unexpected directions - regardless of what I may initially have had in mind.

As meticulously guided students become more confident and interested in the inquiry process and their own ideas, they graduate to the middle tier of assignment criteria and are less dependant on being told how to think and organize their work.

If I understand the learning target alignment correctly, I believe it means to align what needs to be done with the current level of achievement of each student to be sure students are guided to the required extent. The student's comfort level is not fixed as they graduate to the next level when they are ready. Every student receives the required teaching but how far they go with it depends on their level of readiness, which grows with the student.

lundi 28 mars 2011

Student-Centered Assessment - Volante

The first of the seven principles suggested by Volante is that assessment be student-centered. The ultimate goal is that we make students responsible for their learning and having them take ownership in the assessment process is the first step in seeing this through. According to his research, this approach will positively influence motivation and learning.

In order to enhance this motivation for learning, teachers should rely more heavily on formative assessment. We need to be continually engaged in dialogue with our students about what they do well and what they are lacking in order to be proficient in their work. Ken O'Connor stated that when we give a grade to students, nothing improves,  but when we give feedback, we can expect an average of 30% improvement from students. Volante included a list of things we can do in our formative assessment to encourage student engagement.

  • Give a pretest before a unit of study: This allows us to make necessary adjustments to the personal learning goals for each student.
  • Be aware of students who are in need of more assistance or practice. They will more likely need to be monitored more closely.
  • Continually revise instruction based on assessment results. If some students are not getting it, what do they need to learn in order to get it?
  • Convey strengths and weaknesses to students. Effective feedback will allow them to grow from where they are.
  • Match students in groups that will encourage growth. These groupings can become a ressource for students to use independently once they learn how to work together.
  • Allow opportunity for self-assessment. This is key in order for students to take ownership of their work. They are able to direct their own learning this way and they become responsible for what they have done and how they plan to grow with each susequent assignment.
Encouraging students to self-assess smooths the transition from the teacher being the director to the teacher simply guiding an independent worker.

All of these conditions make sense. Most would not argue that when a student becomes responsible for his or her own learning, he or she becomes a lifelong learner, capable of assuring continuous growth in life. I can picture it in my head, running smoothly, a motivation-filled classroom guiding the students to a state of independence they want to reach.

Conversely, I also have questions about how this motivation occurs when the inclusion of a student is not enough. How do we cope when a student dares you to make them care and then sets up camp behind a granite wall of resistance? And what of class sizes? When teachers are facing groups beyond 30 students, they are overwhelmed with duties leading to learning and other academic and behavioural issues. Teachers slip into survival mode and find it difficult to make the time to consult with each student in the goal of guiding their next steps.

vendredi 25 mars 2011

Principles for Effective Classroom Assessment - Louis Volante

I have had many interesting conversations with a number of colleagues throughout my career about assessment. Early on, I was overwhelmed and lacked confidence in what and how I evaluated. At times, I have been excited about the way I was evaluating, just to be straightened out by my peers who were able to see the whole picture. My vision of assessment was fuzzy at best. At long last, the blur is fading and lending way to a more focused view of where I am heading.

As a middle years team in my school, we have rummaged through the curriculum guides and filtered out the essential learning outcomes in the various content areas. I am increasingly aware that the content is less important than the skills and attitudes that accompany a lifelong learner - which is what we are encouraging after all. The content provides us with a means to explore and develop these skills as the student becomes more and more independent.

Having done this, we are finally on the same page (or at least in the same chapter) and heading in a common direction. We know what a student will experience from one year to the next and this continuum helps us to be aware of what other teachers are doing. Students will see their education as a continuous flow rather than bits and pieces of information thrown at them over the years.

So, I now know what I need to assess, things that matter. And I know that I need to assess for specific reasons. To be sure I am assessing for the right reason, I ask myself the three following questions:

  1. Will this assessment help guide me to teach better (or differently) in order to meet the needs of my students?
  2. Is this assessment useful to promote learning? That is, does the student learn from having experienced it and is he or she able to improve upon what has been learned for the next phase of learning?
  3. And finally, how does this assessment allow me to accurately report to parents on the achievement of their child?
The articles I have read and the seminars I have attended have common research evidence. They all seem to agree on the principles of assessment and attitudes which are necessary to create a healthy climate which promotes learning in the classroom. The latest article (by Louis Volante) focuses on these seven principles, which I list below. The articles to follow will discuss them in further detail.

The seven principles include the need for classroom assessment to be:
  • student-centered
  • aligned with clear learning targets
  • based on multiple methods
  • able to account for a variety of student skills
  • aimed at reducing bias
  • reliable and valid
  • efficient
Taking this research and applying it to my classroom will bring me closer to my whole picture vision that has been my aim for years. Knowing how to "look" is the first step in "seeing".

lundi 7 mars 2011

15 Fixes for Broken Grades - a Ken O'Connor Webinar

In my second Ken O'Connor webinar, 15 Fixes for Broken Grades, I believe I was able to confirm that much of what I already believe and practice in my own classroom is sound. I have questioned the way I teach, the way I pose questions, the way I assess and the way I report student achievement. I have summarized the essential learning outcomes from the various curricula I teach and students are aware of what and how they are learning as we explore the content. It is not about memorizing facts, but about understanding process. Science and Social Studies courses are not about facts and figures, but about skills needed to be that lifelong learner we are trying to help emerge.

This has led me to rethink not only how I teach, but what I teach as well. A research project on Ancient Egypt, for example, is not about knowing which date is associated to which specific event, but in leading the student to understanding the impact past events have had on the world. When students learn that some children were denied an education based on race or gender, they may appreciate the fact that they have infinite access to knowledge in a time and a place that values learning.

It's interesting that I felt much more involved in this second webinar by Ken O'Connor. Much of the information shared in the session was similar or repeated from the first one I viewed. This confirms for me, that if I understand more thoroughly a second or third time around, why would my students be any different? Although some students understand things the first time around, most need that repetition in order to help it sink in.

Many teachers are still not clear on the difference between formative and summative assessment. The example noted above shows how the formative part of learning is essential in allowing the student to gain the knowledge and comprehension required to be able to advance to synthesizing information received. Once they have had the opportunity to process the information (content) and the way they learn (metacognition), the student is an active participant in his or her learning because he or she is aware of the learning that is taking place. At this point, summative assessment can accurately evaluate that learning has occurred and to what extent.

I am anxious to continue going through my notes in order to allow my own learning to sink in about evaluation. I am already looking forward to putting into practice much of what I agree with from this webinar. More to follow.