Assessment for Learning

March 4, 2011

Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  lloydcrew 

In March 2010 Professor Joseph Madaus from the Neag School of Education and Nicole McClure, a graduate student in our department and then member of our course, shared with us why and how we can implement Universal Design for Instruction in our teaching. About 25 minutes and 30 seconds into our recorded USTREAM session, Professor Madaus tells us that “UDI is the proactive design and use of inclusive instructional strategies that benefit a broad range of learners including students with disabilities.” But what does this look like in actual practice?

This Wednesday we will have the opportunity to learn about Universal Design for Learning from Ira Socol, who blogs at SpeEdChange, where he takes a critical look at our current educational systems and what we can and should do to create learning environments where all students can succeed. We’ll be meeting with Ira Socol on October 26, 2011 at 11:30 a.m. EST in LearnCentral and welcome others to join us. Prior to our session, we’ll submit our questions to Ira based on our readings for this week and our own experiences, interests and realities. During our face-to-face time we’ll take a look at some best practice examples of UDL in college-level courses.

Our materials for this week follow a parallel thread, in that they call into question traditional assessment models, from end-of-semester exams and teacher-driven assessments to the traditional grading structures found in classrooms from kindergarten to graduate school. We also have several examples in which educators have used socially mediated technologies to provide more personalized and meaningful learning, as well as teacher reflections on their efficacy. What do you think about these readings? Do traditional grading structures no longer have a place in our current and future learning environments? If so, what could take its place?


14 Responses to “Assessment for Learning”

  1. edadedebas Says:

    The article “A Model for Teaching College Writing” is a blog post written by a guest blogger Barbara Vance about a new classroom project she has implemented on a traditional freshman Rhetoric classroom. Barbara Vance is a graduate assistant at University of Texas, Dallas. In Fall 2009, she is assigned to teach a traditional freshman rhetoric course and is asked to create “more structure” since she will be working with students with special needs. She designs a new classroom project in which the students will work together and shoot a documentary film. First of all, Vance “hires” each student for different positions in the fictional company she creates. In order to be hired, each student has to prepare a resume, a cover letter and make a mock interview with Vance in order to convince her that she/he is suitable for the position. I think this is a great way to prepare students for future and to show them a different aspect of rhetoric other than writing. She has two main goals: 1) to teach them that “rhetoric” can be found everywhere, in everyday life and writing is not the only medium to teach rhetoric 2) writing has to be shared. It is a communal activity and it develops as you get feedback from community and you keep your audience in mind. There are three main writing assignments: 1) the students choose an issue from their local community and propose a topic for the film and vote the topic 2) they are asked to write a visual paper and make the basis of the movie 3) weekly blog posts about the pre-production, post-production, shooting, marketing etc. Each of the writing assignments is shared among class members and in the blog. She thinks that this makes the students more consciously and be more mindful of their writing.

    I think this new classroom tool is a great way to teach students rhetoric and writing. Currently teaching a writing class, I am having similar difficulties and problems and I agree that students write better when they know that their writing will be evaluated by a fellow classmate. Besides, it gives them more feedback. Writing becomes a more collaborative activity in which they can learn more and develop their writing more than a traditional writing class. However, I have two questions: 1) I think it is very courageous to implement something completely new when you are a TA or a junior faculty. I am sure she has faced many conflicts and disagreements and had to calm down the students who are used to work in a traditional environment. 2) I also wonder how she has assessed the students. I am always a little skeptical when there is group work especially when the whole class works as a group. How did she deal with the students who completed all the writing assignments and but fail to complete their responsibility in the working of the film production?

    • edadedebas Says:

      Barbara Vance’s blog post appeared on David Parry‘s blog “Outside the Text.” He is an assistant professor of Emerging Media and Communication at University of Texas, Dallas. I suggest that you take a look at both sites if you have time!

    • marineuconn Says:

      Hi Eda! Thank you for your great summary. I share your concerns about having something non-traditional implemented in the classroom. I am currently implementing my classroom project and I am a bit tense about how the whole thing will work out with the students. I also had my students do a couple of things in group throughout the semester and it would have been impossible to assess them individually without asking also for such productions as an essay or a summary. For me, Barbara Vance’s class has even several benefits outside of better quality writings: the course is more adapted for students with special needs and also for students that have different backgrounds — which is the case of all Freshmen’s students and even beyond.

      • rosariopollicino Says:

        Hi Eda
        I liked the summary you gave us the article must be very interesting indeed and I share also your same doubts. However, the TA who implemented this traditional class must have been supported by the professor she works with and if she has been supported it is because her project was considered valid or at least worth of a “go”. I agree that probably this was allowed because it was a class for students with special need and so they tried something different however I believe we should start changing our minds because I cannot see any reason why it could not work for all kind of students.

        Also the interview part and so make them compete somehow for a particular role int he course is a very interesting part which is going to get them ready to the real job market first and rhetoric is important indeed in this world for different aspect what a better course like that to highlight a few which, usually, are not considered in typical courses.

  2. marineuconn Says:

    Getting it wrong: surprising tips on how to learn

    By Henry L. Roediger and Bridgid Finn

    There is this common idea that when a student makes an error, he/ she learns this error and is then more prevented from learning the correct information. That is why school creates study conditions that doesn’t permit errors. However, some scholars from U.C.L.A discovered that studying in conditions where students do make errors make them learn better. For example, challenging tests make students remember the information better and longer. The scholars “showed that if students make an unsuccessful attempt to retrieve information before receiving an answer, they remember the information better than in a control condition in which they simply study the information.” When the students makes an attempt to come up with an answer, even if it is wrong and even if they study the answer for a shorter time that they do in the control group, they will remember it better. They found the same results for a experiment where students were asked specific questions on a text to read before an exam: they would get more correct answers than their classmates that had only been given additional time to study the text, or that had had the key words or critical sections hilighted!! To give questions “focuses students’ attention on the critical concepts.”

    For me, the experiment also shows that students don’t have an active reading of a text on their own: they need an external input that directly challenge their mind (questions versus keywords/ hilights).

    The first part of the article also shows that school in more designed in order to make a selection between students (having some people get it right and other get it wrong) than teach them (learning by making mistakes, by being challenged).

    I would like to get feed-backs on my last two comments. Thank you

    • edadedebas Says:

      Hi Marine,

      Thanks for the summary. I found the article/study very interesting. i do agree with the first part of the study in which students learn better when they make mistakes. I am currently teaching W course and in the W course orientation, we were told not to correct all the mistakes and let them see some of the similar mistakes themselves. In my two reading assignments, I had tried both ways and it works better when the students read their own writings more carefully later on.

      • rosariopollicino Says:

        HI Marine,

        I believe that we learn from our mistakes, and this is not just a said but a reality. In language learning (and I would include also a writing course) when we make a mistake it is a sign that the student is developing a language skill he/she is going through it the brain itself is processing it. When a student make a mistake he usually make a completely wrong mistake (in the worst scenario) than a more acceptable one until he gets to the right for.
        It is the famous inter-language process that we all know (I am sure). This process, found out by Krashen, can be applied also for other subjects the real learning go through a mistaking process which afterwards becomes solid knowledge. Imagine if someone start doing something correct straight away at all times… could be luck or it could a genius. The second option exists, although it is vary rare so for the first option there will come a time the student/learner makes a mistake and here we go the process I mentioned above. So at the end I believe to make mistake is a process we all have to go through for learning.
        What do you think, does it make any sense? I agree for the acting reading part however this is also a matter of teaching/learning a skill which reading actually is!

  3. soledadre Says:

    The Testing Straitjacket by Trent Batson speaks about the importance of the evaluation methods. Batson states that we teach and learn according to the evaluation format. But as our society evolves, evaluation also needs to be reformed. However, it mostly stays unchanged: memorization is the key for passing the tests since previous discovery work and problem-solving skills are rarely evaluated. But this is not how the real world works, in the real world we need to be ready to discover solutions. That is why the author proposes “Portfolios” as an alternative since it embraces both, teachers and students’ knowledge where reference material, development and discovery are highlighted. However, when teachers have to make a decision among these testing methods they usually chose the classical, static one. The new landscape makes necessary to make use of portfolios: the Web and the educational technology are here to stay. We need to organize all this new digitized academic work and we can do it with a portfolio. A different approach to evaluation is needed: “accumulation of work evidence and reflection on that work”. My only concern about portfolios is cheating, how do you know that your student is really the one doing it?
    A different approach to education is also seen in The Pedagogy of Uncertainty: A Path to Meaningful Homework by Mairi McDermott. In this case we see a different approach to learning through the use of meaningful assignments instead of static and generalized homework. This article briefly shows the author’s own reflection on her teaching. McDermott was asked about the lack of homework in her methods so she found herself trying to explain it. She realized that she had to make all these decisions clearer for herself, for her students, for the families and for the institutions. She also understood how learning makes your teaching methods evolve. The article shows her vision of homework, meaningful homework through case studies that can help students to discover, to find their own ways thanks to very open objectives that promote involvement and critical discussion. I really like her comment on the continuous learning, and how your teaching changes as you learn, that is why education is such a dynamic issue and we need to constantly find new ways.

    • edadedebas Says:

      Hi Soledad,

      Thank you for the summary. I would like to comment on the first article. I do agree with you that evaluations need to be re-evaluated. Together with the developing technologies and new teaching strategies that have become interactive, we need to find a new way for assessment. I think the portfolio idea is great but I see two shortcomings: The first one is similar to your concern. How can we make sure that a certain portfolio belongs to a certain student. What if she/he asked for help from someone else? Secondly, I think we need to be aware of the fact that portfolios may end up taking a universal shape rather than being individualized forms of assessment. As we discuss UDI and new teaching methods that could address students with different backgrounds and needs, we might need to look at portfolios with a critical eye.

      • soledadre Says:

        Yes, I agree. But the think is not falling again in the same mistake. The format of the Portfolios does not have to be the same for all our students. They can include in their Portfolio whatever they have done to reach the objective, the activities they have developed and a reflection and self-evaluation on that. All those aspects do not have to be done in a single way: it can be written, but also through a video, a role play, an album… If we start using the Portfolios as another static tool, what is the point? i think Portfolios must be flexible, dynamic, and its format must be chosen by the students according to their interests and characteristics.

  4. rosariopollicino Says:

    The first article Ending the semester, Lessons Learned I read talks about a Spanish teacher who are teaching a class of students in their late teens and early 20s. The interesting fact is that she is trying to introduce them to learning this language with the use of electronic tools and her students are obviously skeptical about learning with the use of any of those tools that she introduced to them.
    She introduced skype to make them have conversation with native Spanish speaker also mix, Second Life and other few tools. She thought that Second Life would have been the perfect one the one that would have pushed them in learning and practicing Spanish in a real (online) context. Instead they all preferred to practice the language using skype rather than having an avatar and then being very well identified whenever they made mistake.
    What happened with these students is very interesting because the “take home” is definitely that we cannot predict what the best tool for our students is, everyone chooses the one we all prefer and we adjust for us, for our way of learning so as we have already mentioned a few times in our face to face classes we should really give option and let them the last choice.

    The second article Ending of the semester,Lessons learned (assessment) is always about the same professor (who is named Barbara by the way) but this time talks about the self assessment process she experimented with her student (another group though). She divided this process in steps so that they could have a sort of driving them through this process which is not for sure easy.
    1) They had to establish goals for the language learning process
    2) They had to establish tasks in order to perform these goals (and the very interesting thing here is that the tasks were free I mean they had really choose them)
    3) Than they had to blog at least twice a week in the blog of the class about their project (so once again a way to share with the other but not only the results but also the working progress
    4) And Finally at the end of the term they had to assign a grade to their work justifying it with the progress they had made.
    This interesting process showed that only 3 students out of all class did not match the grade that the professor would actually given. So in terms of self-evaluation whenever we clarify what to expect from our students we definitely can get a good results which not only avoid surprises but at the same time make the student realize what are their capacities their skills and what can they (try to) in order to improve.
    I believe these two readings I did are of extremely value for our role of educator which must consider all points that I recap for all of us
    I) Introduce a range of electronic tools for our student so they can choose (I had never thought this way just to introduce!)
    II) Make clear to student what we expect in terms of evaluation and then we could try the self evaluation project when we see we have student who take the process seriously
    III) Implement the collaborating and sharing aspect of it
    IV) Make them justify the mark they assign themselves and if we assign instead this process work perfectly because if it matches nothing to say if it doesn’t there is a communication problem so we need to sort it out in order to improve the job of our students.
    What do you all think, is there anything you would add or change in my recap?

    • loisramirez Says:

      Thank you Rosario for your post. I think it is important as instructor to not assume that our students think they are perfectly aware of their potential. I believe most of the time when a student does a self assesment they are being modest and do not want to come out as arrogant in their evaluation. I believe this is a cultural thing, and it may vary according to the place where the self assesment is done. Regardless I think that it is always important to make our student aware of their true potential (even if its really hidden). I always cherish those moments when a teacher told me I was good at something instead of just having negative feedback from them, I thknk it encourages a student to want to learn more and be more open to new ideas. In regards to the “avatar” article, I think we should also not assume that students want to be anonymous all the time, and that they do not want to accept their mistakes. This group of students were already older and aware that they were learning and wanted to improve whatever they were not understanding. It shows how different age groups approach learning and error correction.

  5. loisramirez Says:

    The article by Alfie Kohn From Degrading to De-Grading talks about a very important topic surrounding learning. The way that we approach learning nowadays is measured not by our level of interest, but instead, by how much we need to know in order to get the grade. As a student I know I have avoided learning some topics in different subjects because they were not being evaluated. This is the exact problem that Kohn presents in his article. Students and teachers alike are more interested in presenting materials for the sole purpose of grading. The problem with this approach is that we become letter robots. Let me explain myself, we regurgitate information not because we find it interesting or we understood most of it, instead we learn for the grade. It is good to know that there are schools that are starting to change the way we teach and the way we learn, afterall learning should be “food for the brain” not “I have a better GPA than you”. Kohn, shows how we degrade our learning by grading our students, since it does not follow the UDL idea. The grading system works as a competition, but this is far from being a healthy one, all we are telling students is get a better grade, to get to number one. We can see how this is an unhealthy approach to teaching, since its allows for students to resort to faulty methods such as cheating. If we took a more UDL approach to assessing what is being learned in class, I think we would have students that are more involved in their own learning development and it would make them aware of what it is needed of them in order to improve their own learning process and become more interested in what they are learning. As Kohn mentioned we cannot use the grading system as an excuse to be accepted into college, since as he points it out, more and more colleges and universities are straying away from accepting students due to their grades. We should start seeing our students as individuals again, and stop assesing them in a standard manner. Just like we were taught in math there are many ways to arrive to the right answer, so why can’t we have many ways to approach a grade?

    • soledadre Says:

      Hello Lois, thank you for your summary. When I was reading it I was remembering all that theories that I used to learn by heart in exams but that just a second after the exam were completely forgotten. My mind knew that I was not going to use them again. I think we need to practice what we learn and learning by heart is not practicing… One of the reasons why I liked Translation and Interpreting much more than Journalism was because of that different approach. In almost all the courses of T and I, in the exam, we were allow to use all the materials from the course, the ones that we had prepared, internet and dictionaries: the exam was translating or analyzing a text as in real life, that is, time-limited but with all the resources at hand. It was quite more worthy that all the theories that I studied in Journalism. Now every time that someone names an author that appear in that degree my mind says “yes, I learnt something about that guy but I cannot remember what…”. By personal experience I can say that even when there was a real exam to do in T and I, I really liked how it worked, and I liked the degree too, I felt (and feel) really interested and I would like to go on in that field, what else can a teacher expect?

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