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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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How Assessment Can Lead to Deeper Learning

Bob Lenz

Founder and Chief of Innovation, Envision Education, Oakland CA

Most educators, policymakers, and parents agree that today's students need a mix of knowledge, skills, and dispositions to prepare them to be successful and engaged citizens. Given that students need a mix of these things, educators, policymakers, and parents are also asking, "How do we know if students are learning both what we are teaching and what they need to know to succeed?"

One key to addressing both of those issues that we understand at our Envision schools is the understanding that they are inextricably linked. While in some circles, assessment is a top-down process done by teachers who decide where students are on the continuum of learning, we engage students directly in assessing their own progress. This is part of our Know, Do, Reflect approach to learning. Here's an illustration of that process:



The reflection step in this on-going learning cycle is an essential element where assessment happens. Reflection invites students and teachers to recognize growth and accomplishments as well as identify opportunities for improvement and development. It is not separate from the learning process: It is an integral step on the path to deeper learning -- it's assessment as learning.

Having students play an active role in this step is distinctive for two reasons:

1. The assessment process itself helps students develop critical thinking and analysis skills.

Students who assess themselves are learning and improving their cognitive skills while assessment is happening. For example, in our classrooms, students are often asked to reflect on what they know before, during, and after a particular lesson, inviting them not only to chart a course for the progress they want to make but also to understand what they already bring to the classroom. Before the lesson even begins, they are exercising muscles that develop an academic mindset, which prepares them to understand not only what they are learning but how they are learning it. Those skills will enhance their ability to learn, adapt, and grow in future classrooms as well as in career and life settings.

2. The process also helps students internalize knowledge, turning what and how they learn into a well of resources they can use in the future.

When students assess their own work, when they identify their own strengths and weaknesses, the likelihood that they will do better next time is greater. This is true, of course, for everyone, not just students. When our goals come from inside, rather than being imposed from an external source, we are more likely to own them and work harder to achieve them.

One of our graduates describes Deeper Learning this way:

"Deeper learning is when a student learns something beyond the content, when they are able to apply their experiences, or knowledge gained in other classes, to what they are doing. It means internalizing information."

Self-assessment leads to that "beyond the content" piece, and gives students the powerful awareness of where they are and where they want to go.

Envision students have multiple opportunities to engage in this kind of learning. In both tenth grade and then again as seniors, they are asked to assemble a portfolio of their best work, which they must "defend," dissertation-style, to an audience of educators, peers, and community members. They give similar presentations throughout their high school years, reflecting on each experience to improve the next one.

As students revise their portfolios, incorporating feedback from teachers and peers, they hone not only critical thinking and analysis skills, but also communication skills. As seniors, they must pass the "College Success Portfolio" defense in order to graduate, and many of them go through multiple revisions and attempts before successfully passing.

As another graduate describes it:

"Being put in a position to articulate a concept to an audience takes greater comprehension than just learning the idea for yourself. By talking about the project, I deepened my own knowledge of the math we were learning."

Talking about their own learning -- articulating it, reflecting on it, internalizing it -- engages students in the kind of assessment that continually reinforces skills, deepens knowledge, and prepares them for the future.

Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments section below.

Comments (8)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Mike Raven's picture
Mike Raven
Former Head of Department (Science), Teacher, Brisbane, Qld., Aust

Hi Bob,

Your blogs are great. I enjoy reading them. What a difference Envision Schools are making for so many. Wonderful impact results.

I was excited to read about the Know-Do-Reflect approach (as well as students building a resource kit over the years).

I wonder if you encourage "learning buddies" and Study Groups ?

I am a retired teacher (30yrs experience) and over the past 15 yrs I developed an approach similar to yours. I had my own classroom in Brisbane, Australia - but now we live in the country (hobbyfarm). I feel I have so much to offer from my materials and experience that I have just started a blog for learners.

You guys are doing such a great job that I hesitate to make comments but if you permit ..

Part of my approach - apart from teaching learning skill sets - was to help a student find their way and to make some sense of it all. In particular I lead them through 5 areas of reflection .

(Seeing the fuller picture of the world, society, place and purpose, self and others really does open the student mind. Their drive increases !)

1. A Sense of Perspective; [Outer Limits] Looking at where we fit in on the grand scale of things - size, distance, time and our place. We are just a life-form on our tiny planet. Mysterious, wonderful but insignificant in the big picture.

2. A Sense of Place: [Nothing really changes] A Thought Experiment. Human activity over time. Designed to increase awareness of society, patterns of living and rituals - from generation to generation.

3. Meaning and Purpose: [The Big Questions.] Where do I fit in ? What role will I play ? What is important ? Do I matter ? Does the world need me ? Is there a future for me ?

4. Self and Others: [Getting along] Self, personalities and relationships.

5. Inner Self: [Inner Mind] Self-examination. Partiality, biases, temptations, distractions - barriers to learning.

The approach did help those who were just drifting along without any real sense of direction and wondering if there was a future (of course there is, and the world is waiting for you - your needed particularly in our age of rapidly advancing science and technology).

Thanks for you patience Bob. Great work !

Cheers,
Mike
My Learning Place Blog
http://bestlearningplace.blogspot.com.au/

Bob Lenz's picture
Bob Lenz
Founder and Chief of Innovation, Envision Education, Oakland CA
Blogger 2014

[quote]Bob, we've had a great question come up in our Twitter community. @elle_lash wrote:

"Self awareness in learning is difficult even on the college level. I'm interested 2 know it's success and how measured."

What do you think? What's been your experience at Envision?[/quote]

We create the culture and structures to promote self awareness. Students learn to be reflective because we require it during the learning process, at the conclusion, individually and in groups. All major performance tasks and projects are accompanied by a reflective summary. These are assessed using a rubric. Finally, the defense process is one huge metacognitive exercise - there is a domain in the rubric for metacognition that is assessed. College students will be great reflectors if they are asked to do it in a structured and supportive method. I have seen 3rd graders do it very well.

Bob Lenz's picture
Bob Lenz
Founder and Chief of Innovation, Envision Education, Oakland CA
Blogger 2014

Mike, thanks for sharing your work! It is inspiring. Bob

Kaitlin G's picture

I would have to agree that assessment does lead to a deeper understanding. You need to know as a teacher what to teach and then what to do and then how to reflect on the assessment. I would say as a literacy teacher I think that the assessments that classroom teachers give would give a better picture as to what gaps the students are lacking and how I can better help serve them. It is true that the assessment process does help the students build critical skills when it comes to thinking. Students need to know how to critically think and what they need to know and what they don't need to know. It is also true that the assessment process will allow students to store things that they will then be able to use in the future, known as background knowledge.

Bob Lenz's picture
Bob Lenz
Founder and Chief of Innovation, Envision Education, Oakland CA
Blogger 2014

Thanks Kaitlin. At Envision, we build teaching literacy into all performance assessments and projects. Teaching students to read, write and think well is a huge priority for us.

Amy's picture

You have finally given words to something that I have been knowing, but not having the vocabulary to communicate...that "the assessment process itself helps students develop critical thinking and analysis skills."
As a principal, I often discuss with teachers the importance of not just having learning objectives that are made clear to students, but allowing them time for student reflection as well. It is evident that doing so helps them to "buy in" to the lessons, but more than that, the very act of doing so helps develop the critical thinking skills that we want them to attain. Students can not develop these skills without a venue through which they can practice them. Done correctly, reflection can provide such an opportunity multiple times per day! As they become more adept at thinking critically, they will begin to push themselves to greater heights and further enrich their learning.
Thank you for giving voice to my thoughts!

Amy's picture

You have finally given words to something that I have been knowing, but not having the vocabulary to communicate...that "the assessment process itself helps students develop critical thinking and analysis skills."
As a principal, I often discuss with teachers the importance of not just having learning objectives that are made clear to students, but allowing them time for student reflection as well. It is evident that doing so helps them to "buy in" to the lessons, but more than that, the very act of doing so helps develop the critical thinking skills that we want them to attain. Students can not develop these skills without a venue through which they can practice them. Done correctly, reflection can provide such an opportunity multiple times per day! As they become more adept at thinking critically, they will begin to push themselves to greater heights and further enrich their learning.
Thank you for giving voice to my thoughts!

Barry Hillman's picture
Barry Hillman
Director, HealthLitNow

I believe Formative Assessment as an element of Common Core instruction can be applied in a way that incorporates and extends self assessment as you describe. A number of researchers have underscored the importance of formative assessment as a distinction between assessment for learning, where design and use centers on promoting student learning, and assessment of learning, where the design and use serve the purposes of accountability, such as ranking and certification.
However, it is the assessment OF learning that can take on the important aspect of being a "Dynamic" aspect of learning. Our group has been promoting the use of handheld whiteboards that incorporate interchangeable graphic organizers or templates for this reason. Their use becomes what we refer to as "Dynamic Formative Assessment" where the feedback is used to immediately impact learning, not accountability. The other factor is how well the teacher can use the information and make decisions and modifications to the immediate instruction as well as longer term planning. Teachers can also readily determine how well prepared students are for other accountability assessment.
I would also add that kids have FUN using handheld whiteboards in this way. Besides providing Dynamic Formative Assessment, handheld whiteboards that incorporate graphic organizers can be linked to digital materials through QR codes to help insure kids are accessing vetted supporting resources. There is an important opportunity for the use of digital and non-digital tools in the classroom that can be lost in all of the technology push. This method of teaching reinforces self assessment in a very transparent way.

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