Who owns assessment? Is it the teacher, school, district, or the test industry? If the government requires them, do they also own the measures? Something was missing from those questions and if you noted that it was “the students,” you’re right. The more schools emphasize standardized tests scores, provide the measures of learning, and dispense scores and grades; the more students feel left out. Yet research continues to confirm the importance of engagement and ownership in children’s success. (NWEA 2015)
Assessment can engage and motivate students.
“Assess” didn’t originally mean to measure. It meant to sit beside and assist. When assessment reverts to its true intent, students will predictably become less anxious and more curious. They will also become less resistant and more engaged. This, in turn, leads to motivation, inspiration, and initiative. Here are some ideas for engaging learners as assessors.
Make assessment meaningful. In place of hollow tests that measure portions of learning, provide opportunities for students to show how they can integrate and use learning. A traditional test may start with vocabulary and content knowledge; a foundation for moving to higher levels of learning. Along with that, allow students choice in showing what they know. Samir chooses to write a traditional essay, while Ramina says she will write a script or poem, and Tashi wants to prepare an infographic. Ask students to then label their learning as content knowledge, application of learning, inquiry, production, and other outcomes that align with learning intentions.
Assessments not only measure student learning, but students can also learn from assessments. For example, they annotate their confidence in their answer and explain or query those that have a confidence level of 3 or below on a scale of 5. When the measure is returned, students correct their errors, explain what they now know, and resubmit their outcomes. In this way, both students and teachers are engaged and informed by the assessment.
Debates, defenses of positions, advertisements, and other demonstrations of learning can be completed individually or collaboratively. Scoring of these can be more challenging, but a rubric that clearly defines learning intentions and levels of attainment smooths the way. Students assess their use of content vocabulary, research-based evidence, the coherence of their argument, and respect for diverse perspectives. They then also have a well-defined basis for scoring their peers.
The best assessments are those that a person doesn’t even know they are taking. For example, frequent student checkpoints provide ongoing updates on learning. At the conclusion of a learning intention or unit, show a brief video, then students use the unit vocabulary to respond to a prompt such as “if you were that person, would you have solved the problem the same way? Why? What other options are there? What knowledge and concepts were used; what are needed?” In doing so, the focus remains on the learning process and progress rather than a summative test.
Informative and integrated assessments can be used for self-evaluation, misconception checks, revision of work, identification of next steps, and lingering questions. Ownership also gives student voice when they explain their answers, defend their views, and decide how to show their learning. They take ownership when they can explain their learning intentions, the strategies they used, analyze the outcomes, and describe their path to improvement. Collectively, these strategies give students the self-confidence they need to ultimately succeed not only on summative tests, but in school and life.
While testing can damage a fragile sense of self, assessment is the mindful practice of reflection, analysis, problem-solving, and improving. When children learn a sport, they consistently assess their progress and seek guidance on stepping-up their game. In the classroom, help students experience that sense of joy with embedded and meaningful assessments accompanied by coaching and scaffolds that support progress towards higher levels of achievement.
“The aim is to get the students actively involved: their role is not simply to do tasks as decided by teachers, but to actively manage and understand their learning gains. This includes evaluating their own progress, being more responsible for their learning, and being involved with peers in learning together about gains in learning.” John Hattie, Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning
NWEA (2015) Better Engagement Improves Learning