My Assessment on Assessments-21st Century Style

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I've been doing some research lately on assessment: its purpose, its effectiveness, the role it plays in the learning process. As I worked on my masters degree, I soon realized we never had tests per se, but weekly papers and projects to complete. I was constantly amazed at how much I was learning...and with no testing? How could that be? But interestingly enough, I never made that connection with my students! At least not until this year...

My classes this year are an interesting bunch. From day one, I assumed the role of Lead Learner in my classroom. This year has been one of exploration and experimentation punctuated with implementing two pilots: Google Apps for Education and 1:1 iPad deployment. So the ground was fertile for additional exploration of transformational learning opportunities. 

Students this year really seem to relish challenge, look forward to projects (the iPad enabled students to create some pretty professional looking content), and really any type of activities that fell outside the norm. In contrast, test prep was non-existent. Even with testing being done online, the mundane routine of wrapping up a unit study with a test didn't yield the kind of results I was looking for. They really didn't know any more information after a test than they knew prior to testing. Yet I had students counting down the days until we begin our 20% project. (More about that in a series of upcoming posts.)

As we've progressed through this school year, I've come to observe that mere tests were 
passé to the majority of my students. Most wouldn't prepare and were satisfied with "good enough" grades. But more importantly, I didn't see these end-of-unit tests impacting the learning process. So...in lieu of these, I have begun to design assessments that require students to dig into the content and literally leverage it for the creation of something new. What I noticed was, they began to make connections that had been missed in the initial exposure to the content. Not only did learning continue THROUGH the assessment phase, it actually went deeper. It was much more meaningful and higher quality work was elicited when their work had an audience; therefore, I implemented peer evaluations of their work using the rubric I used to evaluate their work. I believe evaluating peer work is helping students to develop a deeper understanding of what's needed to "up their game" when it comes to content creation. Another element I added was a Reflection piece to the assessment phase. Reflection appears to be key to improvement! Taking time to reflect on their work, highlight what they did well, and contemplate what could have been better, seems to be a necessary component to improving work.

When I remarked to a student that no one was really preparing for tests and they seemed to be a waste of time, that student replied, "Oh, you're just now figuring that out?" Out of the mouths of babes...

Here are some examples of a recent Podcast Project we completed at the end of our Texas Revolution unit:

  • Battle of Goliad (Oct 9, 1835)
  • The Grass Fight
  • The Consultation
  • The Battle of the Alamo
  • The Goliad Massacre
  • As we completed the fall campaign of the Texas Army, students wrote an expository essay about the events we had just studied. Click here to see an example of an essay on student wrote.

    My Assessment on Assessment:
    1. Design assessments that are authentic, engaging, and require students to dive deep into the content-they may even be fun!
    2. Always provide a rubric so there are clear and compelling standards for expectations. For peer assessment, the rubric may need to be tweaked a little to represent information students, rather than the teacher, may be qualified to assess.
    3. Integrate an additional skill you would like your students to develop and identify that within the rubric and project instructions. This provides opportunities for engagement and equips them with 21st century skills that can be used in other content areas.
    4. Make sure that at the core of the assessment, content is the focus.
    5. Don't forget reflection time! Have students reflect on what was easy, what was hard, and where could they have improved. It's so easy to skip this phase, especially when time is tight. But I believe, when routinely adding this component to the assessment phase, you will begin to develop a "Reflective Mindset" in students that fosters improvement.

    We are about to embark on a 20% Project. We'll see if exposure to this new form of assessment has developed some skills that will translate into success in this project. Stay tuned; I will begin a series of posts on our 20% Project and its progress.

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