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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

If we hope to construct enduring understanding in our students, it's critical that, now more than ever, we know their strengths and interests. By incorporating students' strengths and weakness into authentic learning experiences from the beginning of each unit, while at the same time including opportunities for feedback, metacognition and revision, we promote a variety of cognitive and emotional benefits that can lead to academic success.

For example, students with interpersonal learning strengths find that cooperative group work increases perseverance. Students with artistic, computer, dramatic or organizational skills benefit from appropriate opportunities to engage in building knowledge through their strengths and interests.

It follows that assessments should also provide opportunities for each student's unique learning style to access his or her highest performance success level. A variety of assessment modalities and some student choice in assessment type can bring students to the assessment with less anxiety, increasing the positive learning experience as well as providing the opportunity for them to demonstrate what they know -- not simply what they memorized, forgot or never learned.

The First 3 Assessment Forms

  1. Tests Where Notes or Textbooks are Permitted
  2. Take-Home Tests
  3. Student-Made Tests

What Might These Look Like?

These should be assessments that students prepare and the teacher can alter so that the answers are not just memorized. For example, in a history unit, after studying the different agricultural products in the northern and southern colonies, the self-test questions a student writes might be:

  • What were the crops from the colonies in the north and from the south?
  • How are the climates, land and water supply different in one northern city and one southern city?

When the teacher rewrites the question, it could prompt more analysis and executive function connections if it is rephrased as:

Give an example of how the climate, water supply and soil influenced the agricultural products in one northern and one southern city during the Colonial Era.

In this example, the teacher knows that the student has reviewed the facts necessary to make the higher-level connection and analysis and therefore has the tools for successful higher-level thinking.

4. Projects Pre-Approved by the Teacher

Projects that demonstrate comprehension or mastery of the material covered in the unit can be ideal assessments. They can become the packaging that connects the newly learned patterns of knowledge to related, previously stored knowledge.

To see if the project assessment achieves this end, consider the questions:

  • Does this assessment examine understanding and not just rote memory?
  • Is the student called upon to think during the creation of the project?

These projects can include skits, posters, oral presentations, debates, papers or demonstrations that assess understanding apart from rote knowledge. For some units, the projects can be done in pairs or groups, as long as there is a means of assessing each individual student's participation in the final product. This could be through verbal interviews with students individually after the completion or presentation of the project.

What Might This Look Like?

A project example for a unit of study about modern Europe would have students select a country and simulate travel to that country, including finding out how to get passports and visas, what the passport oath is, what clothing to bring, and what hotels are near the important historic or cultural places they plan to visit.

They can also identify the money exchange rate, create a budget, establish the location of cities in their country to visit along a travel route, memorize useful phrases in the national language, and understand cultural behaviors appropriate to that country. They might also create a menu, a travelogue, cook a meal, or prepare a "scrapbook" with pictures from the Internet and descriptions of their "visits" to these places.

5. Revision and Retests to Build Skillsets

Students benefit most from the ongoing assessments that provide corrective feedback and opportunities to use this information, allowing their brains to construct accurate memories. Instead of just a retest, if students first respond to prompts on a test correction sheet, they gain metacognition as well as memory.

What Might This Look Like?

On a test correction sheet in math, the student is asked to find and write down the page number in the textbook where he or she can identify an example of the problem, and then to review that example. Next, the student describes the type of mistake he or she made on the test. Was it an error in simple arithmetic addition? Was it more extensive confusion about the concept of multiplying negative numbers?

After assessing where their understanding was incomplete, students should write what they will do to learn the material (such as meet with the teacher during study hall, review textbook examples before tests, or practice their multiplication tables).

This process shows students how to review text examples to study for future tests, and gives them confidence in their ability to work through challenging problems on their own with the textbook as a resource. The result is a reduction in test anxiety and learned helplessness. They are motivated to do the test correction sheets because they know it is their key to being able to take a retest.

Motivating Students

Long-term memory retention and motivation increase when students keep track of, reflect on, and look back on their learning journey with pleasure. This works even better when you give them opportunities to share that pleasure with others.

How do you know when your assessment has been effective? Please share in the comments section below.

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