Classroom Assessment Equals Feedback About Learning

11/20/2009  |  JUDY E. CARR and DOUGLAS HARRIS
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Think back to the time when you were learning to drive.What did you need to learn? How did you know you had learned it? On the first day of a driver’s education class, a young woman we’ll call Arlene Freidman, was the first one to drive. She drove down the street, around the corner, up on the curb, and stopped short of a huge tree only because the teacher, Mr. Kay, put his foot on the auxiliary brake pedal installed in front of his spot in the passenger seat of the driver’s education car. Arlene had not known where the brake pedal was, but you can be sure she never again forgot because she was actively involved in the situation, she received immediate feedback, and she got lots more practice before she engaged in assessment OF learning — the road test for her driver’s license.

Imagine what would immediately moving on to the next topic or skill. Instead, learners need to know what they need to learn, what parts of the learning they are doing well, and what aspects they need to learn better.They need opportunities to practice again, and again, and again — to receive feedback as they practice. It is essential to balance assessment OF learning (evaluation of how well students have learned at certain points of time, such as state tests, end of unit tests, mid-term and final exams) with assessment FOR learning — continual feedback to students that helps them to improve their knowledge and skills over time.

The current focus on standards is helpful in this regard, especially in districts and schools that have incorporated standards and associated performance indicators/benchmarks into local curriculum documents from which teachers know what is to be taught and assessed by month or quarter. In some places, the actual standards documents from the state are translated into “I can” statements for students. Consider, for example, the following “I can” statements from the second grade language arts curriculum in Elmira, NY.

I can use what I know about letters, sounds and words to help me figure out words.

I can read carefully and use what I know about words to fix mistakes.

I can read with fluency and expression.

I can connect what I read with my life.

I can answer questions and solve problems using information.

Students can set goals and self-assess in relation to the “ICan” statements,thus becoming much more focused on their purposes for learning. And teachers who attend to the “I Can” statements quite naturally give feedback about learning, rather than continuing a common past practice of providing feedback about learning activities or products (such as assessing the neatness of a book poster rather than using the studentcreated book poster to assess a student’s grasp of the concepts of character, plot, and setting).

Dr. Linda Hatfield, Director of Literacy for the Enlarged City School District of Middletown (NY), worked with middle school literacy teachers to develop an instructional process model that shows the relationship between assessment FOR learning and assessment OF learning, a model subsequently adopted by principals of all schools in the district, grades PreK-12. Instruction is planned based on the requirements of standards-based performance indicators in the context of knowledge of students’ strengths and needs, both through pre-assessment and through ongoing classroom assessment and feedback, until such time that students have successfully demonstrated their learning. Only then should they be formally evaluated and graded.

Based on pre-assessment to determine students’ current knowledge and skills, the instructional process begins with instruction and modeling by the teacher. Examples are shared and demonstrated, and student have opportunities to observe, interact, and question before trying out the new knowledge and skills on their own with support from peers and the teacher in class (guided practice). The teacher circulates and provides regular feedback about what seems to be going well and what needs to be refined. Only when the learners appear to be successful in their understanding and abilities are they assigned independent practice in the form of homework. Equally important, when they complete their homework and bring it to class, the teacher does NOT merely put a check in the book to indicate the homework has been completed. Students receive feedback on their work in terms of what it demonstrates about their learning strengths and needs.

Instruction, then, becomes a set of building blocks to successful learning. The mortar is classroom assessment FOR learning, a continuous process of discourse and dialogue, criteria and critique, and a feedback process in which teachers and students together move learning forward in the classroom.

Dr. Linda Hatfield, Director of Literacy for the Enlarged City School District of Middletown (NY), worked with middle school literacy teachers to develop an instructional process model that shows the relationship between assessment FOR learning and assessment OF learning, a model subsequently adopted by principals of all schools in the district, grades PreK-12. Instruction is planned based on the requirements of standards-based performance indicators in the context of knowledge of students’ strengths and needs, both through pre-assessment and through ongoing classroom assessment and feedback, until such time that students have successfully demonstrated their learning. Only then should they be formally evaluated and graded.

Based on pre-assessment to determine students’ current knowledge and skills, the instructional process begins with instruction and modeling by the teacher. Examples are shared and demonstrated, and student have opportunities to observe, interact, and question before trying out the new knowledge and skills on their own with support from peers and the teacher in class (guided practice).The teacher circulates and provides regular feedback about what seems to be going well and what needs to be refined. Only when the learners appear to be successful in their understanding and abilities are they assigned independent practice in the form of homework. Equally important, when they complete their homework and bring it to class, the teacher does NOT merely put a check in the book to indicate the homework has been completed. Students receive feedback on their work in terms of what it demonstrates about their learning strengths and needs.

Instruction, then, becomes a set of building blocks to successful learning. The mortar is classroom assessment FOR learning, a continuous process of discourse and dialogue, criteria and critique, and a feedback process in which teachers and students together move learning forward in the classroom.

Judy Carr and Doug Harris are Co-Directors of Center for Curriculum Renewal. You can reach Ms. Carr at 802-598-8292. Mr. Harris can be reached at 802-793-0202. For more information visit www.curriculumrenewal.com.
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