Only Learners Can Improve Learning

bike tourNational Library – Flicker Commons

Everyone has a destination or goal in mind when they start out on their bicycle.  The destination when biking can be either a long term or short term goal.  The same applies to assessment.  Assessment is a process of gathering ­evidence of student learning. It is not limited to a single event; rather, it consists of a series of events that take place over time. Although assessment may include formal tests, it more often involves different ways of obtaining feedback on work in progress.  Classroom assessment can help students become engaged in their learning and be more confident with new learning.

Assessment for learning, assessment as learning, formative assessment and peer feedback describes assessment processes.  Teachers begin the process of assessment by carefully planning their units, lessons and assessment tasks to ensure they can gather evidence about mastery of curriculum outcomes. Students know the learning ­target through clearly articulated expectations or criteria for the work. Rubrics are often provided and samples of student work may be used to help ­students more clearly understand what is expected.  Assessment is about teaching, planning, instructing and reporting and helps the learner improve his/her learning.

Students learn how to reflect on their work and make adjustments during their learning to improve the quality of the work.  It is less effective to wait until the assignment is given back or graded by the teacher. When teachers provide ongoing feedback and coaching to students, and peers help each other improve the learning, learners take learning into their hands.

A report card is only one way to share information.  It is essential to make sure that conversations focus on the learning that has taken place.  Term grades provide teachers, students and parents with information about how well the student is progressing towards meeting the expectations of the curriculum.  They are a reflection of what the student has already learned and what still needs to be learned.  Teachers and parents can strengthen the partnership between home and school by taking time to explore assessment strategies and encouraging the child to reflect and self-assess.  Encourage the student to use assessment criteria such as rubrics to talk about “my strengths and my challenges” and then focus on what needs to be done next.

An outcome is a destination and where the planning process for instruction begins.  Real planning is messy.  We need to understand:

  1. The big learning goals or the purpose of the outcome.  What do we want the students to learn (the knowledge skills and the dispositions towards the learning).
  2. Evidence of the learning or what we expect students to be doing and saying.  How will the student show that the expected outcomes have been achieved?  How will the students be involved in developing their understanding of these criteria?
  3. Assessment tasks that are valid (accurate) and reliable (consistent & fair).  How will students be enabled and encouraged to understand the assessment, provide evidence of their learning and how will they get feedback to decide their next steps.
  4. Engaging teaching and learning.  What teaching and learning activities will enable and encourage students to learn and practice the desired skills and content?  How will these activities be differentiated?
  5. Recognizing prior learning is helpful.  How will the student’s prior knowledge be identified and built upon and previous misconceptions addressed.

Messages about assessment and feedback are at the heart of the teaching process.  Strong formative assessment leads to greater student learning.  We need to make sure we become a good team in a good league with regards to assessment.  Teachers, parents, students and division staff need to work together to ensure there is common understanding about what mastery means.  The title of this blog “Only Learners Can Improve Learning” is a mighty strong statement that involves change.  We must work to prepare ourselves and figure out how to support our learners through effective assessment and instruction.


About lgatzke

I am an assessment supervisor passionate about getting kids smarter. As Dylan Wiliam says, "Smart is not something you are, smart is something you get".
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