For far too long in my teaching career, I assessed for a unit and moved on. I did the grading and handed down my judgement. There was very little student involvement. I didn’t give the students a chance to take ownership of their own learning. I didn’t consider how to demonstrate growth over time. Slowly but surely, I am trying to change that by making new assessments. Assessments that can show growth and that involve the student in the assessment process.
Measuring for Real Growth
One problem with measuring student growth is that to see real growth, it’s helpful to have a real comparison to make. In other words, having the student perform a very similar task repeatedly. How often do we really do this with our students? We have topics to cover, initiatives to implement, new strategies to try. Way too often I don’t take my own advice. But when I do, it reinforces my commitment to try to do it more often. Just recently I was looking at two drafts of a student’s work They were attempting to use certain techniques to show the illusion of depth in a drawing. The second attempt on its own was not all that impressive; there was much room for improvement. But when I looked back at the first attempt, I saw just how much the student had grown already. Suddenly that second attempt was way more impressive! I was able to provide much more encouraging and supportive feedback just as the student himself and his partner had been able to do.
The final project also called for the students to use the techniques to show the illusion of depth. But it was too much of a leap from the first exploration to the next. I needed to do a better job of making the connection between the two assignments for the students. I also needed to simplify the second piece so the students could take what they learned from the first exploration and apply it without being distracted. It made the comparison more of an apples to oranges than an apples to apples.
So what worked? Well, I created a self-and-peer assessment that were very similar for both the “learning” assignment and the final project. This allowed the students to spend less time understanding the format of the assessment and more time looking critically at the work. Even before the students used the assessment, we calibrated our grading as a class to be sure we had a common understanding of the assessment. A volunteer student and I shared “our” pieces (pieces I prepared ahead of time to reflect different strengths and weaknesses). As a class, the students assessed each piece. Then we discussed the different ideas students had about how to grade each piece. We shared out reasoning and came to a consensus on what constituted acceptable application of the techniques and what needed more work. When I went over the assessments, I found that most of the time I agreed with how the students had graded themselves. That made me more confident that we were all understanding what was expected of the artists.
So, to sum up, here are some things to consider when creating assessments to demonstrate student growth:
- Assign the same or similar task in order to compare apples to apples.
- Keep related pieces of work so you and the students can see the progress and growth over time both in the work (if that is possible) and on the assessments.
- Calibrate the use of the assessment so you and the students all understand what is acceptable.
- Use a similar assessment over time so students become accustomed to that assessment and can increase the effectiveness in using it to self-assess.