Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Shifting Sands: Assessment

I was raised in the ed school of the late 80’s. I remember being told the difference between formative and summative assessments but I also remember most of the emphasis being on summative assessments – those big end of unit exams measuring all the learning objectives written with active verbs. Was the question valid based on correct response rates? Was the test scaffolded along Bloom’s lines? When graphed, did grade distribution resemble a bell or a balloon in a windstorm?


It's time to shift away from the almighty summative assessment where the grade is given and everyone moves on to the next unit – regardless of grade, mastery or understanding. I think most agree that learning is a process of facilitated experience. Around here, we name the process the Ignatian Pedagogical Paradigm (Context-Experience-Reflection-Action-Evaluation). The teacher as facilitator guides students through a series of experiences which, through reflection, become part of a lifetime of action. What summative assessments miss is all the small stages in which learning occurs. How does the teacher know each and every student is working to his/her full potential? How do the teacher and student recognize gaps? Identify successes? Make the connections of previous knowledge to new ideas? This is where I see the value in formative assessments. And fortunately for me and my blog writing, technology makes formative assessments easy.

1. Sharing writing has never been easier. Google Docs, Mcrosoft Live 360, iCloud, Dropbox, Blogger, Edublogs, Wikispaces and any learning management system out there allows for fast and simple document sharing, blogging, discussion forums and uploads. Writing a “Do Now”, reflection or exit ticket can easily be done on any device and submitted as formative assessment without interrupting the flow of the classroom.

2. Opportunities for multi-channel products are in every pocket. Have students pull out a phone and record a verbal answer to a prompt you offer. Have them take photos of their vocabulary words. Create a video showing the action of an experiment or scene from the reading. Students meet with you face-to-face during consult time to show you their evidence of learning... or at the very least email or upload files to product of your choice.

3. Assess your students using audio tools. Instead of writing all over a student assessment, record your response to their work using Garageband, Audacity…your phone. Students love to hear constructive criticism.

4. Have a back channel feed for class time where everyone participates. This can be done through Twitter, TodaysMeet or PollAnywhere. Assess based on articulation of argument or uses of evidence to support claims. Students will engage the material, engage each other and have an excellent resource for studying for the summative assessment (should you give one).

5. Collect material from all the steps of the summative product. Peak in on the process of creating using a shared Google Doc, Presentation or Spreadsheet. Have students share their Prezi file or Glogster site with you. Assess formative steps in the projects before the final project is due. Give them the feedback to produce their best work.

This idea that the end of unit summative assessment is the only way to gage success (of student, school or teacher value-add) puts the learning process at a dead end. The summative assessment happens, is over and everyone moves on to the next unit. So instead, shift your paradigm and set students up for success with constant feedback.

Feel free to leave your favorite way to formatively assess with technology! Love to hear ideas.

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