Demonstration of Learning

After taking this course, ECS 410, my thoughts on assessment and evaluation have changed drastically through both the learning in this course as well as actual experience within my Pre-Internship.  One of the biggest things that I have learned is that any and all assessment or evaluation must be of how the students are meeting the Outcomes.  Giving students a test that more evaluates a student’s ability to find an answer using a specific method is wrong if the outcome states only that students need to be able to find the answer to the given question.  Yes, it is good to see which methods a student might prefer, but because he/she likes to use one over the other they should not be penalized for it.  Our job as teachers is to see where students are at, see where the outcomes expect them to be, and find a way to bridge the gap between those two things, and so any assessment and evaluation needs to be to the benefit of both the teachers and the students to see if they have met those outcomes or what they need to do to show that they have met them.

In my own field experience I worked with two cooperating teachers.  My one cooperating teacher already had a system in place in which students showed their learning via completing workbooks, quizzes, assignments, tests, and projects that we were required to work within, and so my evaluative strategies were more limited in that classroom, and my formative assessment strategies tended to be more along the lines of showing students examples of questions and then helping them as they needed in their workbooks.  I had more room in my other teacher’s classroom, and so used things like entrance slips/quizzes, review of the day before, textbook work, assignments, and tests to see whether or not students understood.  In that classroom the teacher stated that everything had to be worth at least some marks, otherwise students would not do the work, so completed textbook assignments and quizzes were graded.  In both experiences, the only time students were really involved in learning from their mistakes was if they completed one of the assignments early in the class of the first coop, after which it would be marked and they would have an opportunity to fix their mistakes, though oddly not many chose to do so, even if they did finish early.  Overall it was good to see how other teachers were assessing, including my one coop’s more upbuilding way of assessment, but it left me with a lot to think about in terms of how students actually show that they have met the outcomes.  In the future, I would like to be much more explicit in telling students what the outcomes are and which one(s) are going to be tackled in each unit.

In terms of mixing practices in the field and philosophy, I would say that my philosophy did not fully develop until the last couple weeks after Pre-Internship, in which I had the opportunity to not only think about what was taught in class, but also how the assessment practices talked about in class would actually work within a classroom.  Not only that, it really allowed me to think about who I am and who I want to be as a teacher.  So saying, I would say that anything that I had wanted to do on a more ideological standpoint came second to merely trying to find my own place in the classroom, and so assessment practices would have matched much more to those that I had experienced rather than those I wanted to integrate.  Overall the barriers that prevented me from possibly assessing students a different way were my own inexperience, as well as a lack of thorough thought and planning as to how I would assess students differently.  A way in which I might overcome these barriers are to put in the effort and time to plan out each outcome that I hope to cover in the class, as well as plan out what my own classroom expectations are so that when the school year does start I can inform the students of my expectations and give them a tentative schedule, thus encouraging me to stick with my plan.

Based upon what I have learned through ECS 410 and my own Pre-Internship experiences, there are some key learnings that I will take with me as I move into my Internship:

1. Assessment should always be directly related to the outcomes.

2. Education is about the students, not the teachers.

3. There are many ways in which a student can show that they have met an outcome.

These are important because they will really encourage me to go the extra mile when assessing students.  If a student finds another, but equally adequate, way of showing that they have met an outcome, that is great.  Mathematical understandings can be shown in more than just tests and assignments, and so I should encourage students to find how they understand the math that I intend to teach them.  That is why these are important, because they place the focus off of my teaching, and instead upon the students’ learning and meeting the outcomes.

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To Test or not to Test

For those of you that were unaware, I just completed my Pre-Internship, or to be more specific, I just finished being in a school for three and a half weeks observing, learning, and teaching.  That is a whole other conversation on its own, but I stated this to help give you guys a context.

So, as I said I finished my Pre-Internship last week, and so this week have been getting back into the groove of classes.  For the most part we have just been talking about and reflecting on our experiences within the school and particularly in the classroom.  When discussing common teacher practices for the purpose of assessment, one common element (especially when talking to a bunch of other math majors) of our experience is the use of tests as the summitave basis for assigning marks to students.  This intrigued me.  One member of our discussion group brought up the opinion that tests should instead be things by which we can truly see what students know so we know what to teach them next.  If a student only gets 40% on a test, would allowing that to be the be-all-end-all for that section of the course be the right thing to do?  That is the question.  I think that there is indeed value in using various forms of formative assessment to show the teacher what the students have yet to learn, and yet there still needs to be that summative form of assessment, as we as teachers are expected to put something in the student’s report cards to say how they did.

So, I think that one thing a teacher might do is to teach, give a test, evaluate the common elements the students are struggling with, teach more thoroughly those elements, and give another test.  The thing is, though, is that there needs to be that final assessment, and from what I have experienced, there are always going to be students that do not put the work in and so that no matter how many checks a teacher tries to put in place, students will still fail.  Until we get to the point where students are motivated to take hold of their own learning, there will still be students who fail from a lack of effort.  Overall, though, the more teacher is able to place checks to help students succeed, the better for students who are willing to put the effort in.

What do you think?  How should tests be used in the curriculum?  What other forms of summative assessment might be used in a subject like mathematics?  What checks do you think can be put in place to best help students to succeed?  And is there any set of procedures that might be done that will help every student?

Why should I use marks?

The use of rubrics within schools, as presented to us in class, is a development that has now been going on for about 20 years, and within that 20 years many changes within the subject have occurred.  There are many ways in which rubrics can be used appropriately, and many ways in which they can be used inappropriately.  The thing is, I do not see how rubrics are a useful assessment and evaluation tool for assessing as to whether students have achieved the specific grade outcomes that we are required to teach.

The thing is, teachers are hired to teach the provincial government mandated curriculum if a student is going to pass that course.  Within the curriculum, there required outcomes that a student must meet.  Are you following me?  So, my question is, if all the students are only required to achieve the outcomes laid out in the curriculum, and the teacher’s job is to make sure that they do so, why are there percentage marks?  To me it makes much more sense to just have a checklist of the outcomes, and if a student shows sufficient evidence of having achieved them, they get a check for each outcome.  They either know it, are able to do it, or understand it, or they do not.  So then, are percentage marks just nothing more than the teachers opinion of how well the student has completed the outcome based upon the assessments that the teacher has decided to present to the students?

So, overall I think that in such a situation in which students should only be given pass/fail marks, a rubric seems unnecessary when the result is just the teacher seeing if the student has shown evidence of knowledge or capability related to each outcome.

What do you think?  Should there be percentage marks, and if so should there be rubrics?  What other forms of assessment might be better for a percentage-less class?  Or, do you love marks and think I am crazy for disagreeing with them?  Thanks for reading!

Flip it into Reverse

Determining what a teacher needs to assess and how they might go about assessing it is a difficult task.  Being able to connect teaching to student learning to students showing their learning is not easy, especially when there is not necessarily a set goal for where teachers should aim for.  That is why it is important to first think about what the end goal should be, and then work backwards from there.

One effective way to work backwards is to use the backwards by design approach, in which teachers first look at what the curriculum outcomes expect the students to understand by the end of the course and then working backwards in terms of what learning needs to happen before the end result is attained until the teacher reaches to the point at which the students are at.  It is a very constructivist approach in which learning one day depends upon that which was learnt the day before.  In this approach, because teachers know what students are supposed to have learned before being able to move onto the next stage, it is that much easier for them to come up with ways of assessing students’ knowledge and abilities, thus allowing teachers and students to have a clear idea of where they are at, where they need to go, and how they are going to get there.

This method is a very effective way to show teachers what needs to be assessed in terms of student learning because of those very reasons.  When students know where they are at, what the goal is to succeed, and what they need to do to bridge that gap, then they are that much more able to be effective, because the path to success is then clearly marked out for them.

What do you think?  Are there other approaches to working with the end in mind?  Do you even agree that backwards designing is a more effective way for teachers to create assessments?  If so, why, and if not, what ways might be more effective?  Thanks for reading.