What is assessment and how do we effectively use it in the classroom? The answer to this question, for myself anyways, remains unknown. Looking back at my experience in school, assessment was based around tests – I pushed myself to get “good grades” and based my self-worth on how “well” I was doing in school. Years later, we still see schools as competitive institutions, which I believe is a result of living in a success-driven society. Recollections of stress, anxiety and fear still resonate with me when thinking about assessment. This is something that I hope students in my classroom will never experience. Today, as a pre-service teacher, I find assessment petrifying – but how can I move away from the negativity? I still have not found the “key” to successful assessment and am unsure if I ever will. However, I have compiled a few thoughts on how I might approach assessment at this point in my journey to becoming an educator.
- Assessment needs to be based off of entire life experience, not just learning that takes place in the classroom – what could potentially affect learning?
- Pre-assessment is vitally important – we need to know what prior knowledge and experience students are bringing to the classroom. We cannot assume or have pre-set expectations of students, as this only sets them up for failure. Once we have completed a pre-assessment, planning learning experiences that cater to the learning styles of all students can be achieved.
- Differentiated assessment – we need to ensure students are not penalized as a result of oppressive assessment tools. If a student’s learning does not reflect success through an assessment, it could mean that the assessment tool in place is not conducive to their learning style – CHANGE IT UP!
- Self-reflective teaching practices – allows me to continuously adapt my teaching and assessment strategies to ensure they are effective in supporting success in all learners.
- Allowing students to demonstrate their knowledge in multiple ways – assessed in ways that honor their unique learning styles. Learning that takes place cross-curricular opens up more opportunities to represent learning = more opportunities for a variety of assessments.
- Have students brainstorm ideas on how they should be assessed – what things should we as educators be looking for when we look at your learning processes? For example: constructing a rubric for an assignment alongside the students, both parties are contributing to the assessment process. Students become leaders in the assessment process – taking responsibility and ownership over their learning.
- Ensure students are aware of what they are being assessed on and what the assessment will look like – no surprises. It is also important to deliver these instructions in multiple ways (orally, written, pictorially, etc.).
- Anecdotal records based on observations – showing a progression/growth – assessment that takes place over time.
- Including students in the assessment process – conferencing/goal setting conversations, self-assessment, and peer-assessment. This allows educators to get more of a “full-picture” idea of student progress – over-time collecting observations.
- Assessment must reflect what is being taught (instruction) – how can we assess students on something they have yet to learn?
- Giving students feedback on their work > always assigning a grade – allows students to take constructive feedback and apply it to future learning experiences. This fosters self-confidence/worth, rather than lowering confidence (if a student does not get a grade they are satisfied with).
- Encouraging students to self-reflect (ex: journal writing) – we as educators can see a reflection of their journey, as well as they can use this as a tool to help them self-assess their learning.
- Assessment does not solely need to take place at the end of a learning experience – assessment can be ongoing.
Despite reflecting on what my future assessment experiences may look like, there are still things I am unsure of. How am I able to assign a “grade” to all learning experiences? Some learning experiences benefit the student by experiencing personal growth and reflection – how can I place a “grade” on something like that? How do we extend knowledge and learning beyond the summative assessment of an experience? Do we need to perform summative assessment in order to ensure our students have met the delivered outcomes? I believe that the first step in exploring assessment is self-reflection – if we do not reflect, we may not notice areas of improvement within ourselves. Assessment is a journey that I will forever be trying to navigate through alongside students – assessment will be a process involving “we” rather than “me”.
“Differentiation is a philosophy or mindset that enables educators to plan strategically in order to reach the needs of the diverse learners in classrooms today so that they can achieve targeted standards – not a set of tools, but a belief system or mindset that educators embrace to meet the unique needs of every learner.” (Chapman and Gregory, p. 2)
As our classrooms are becoming increasingly diverse, the need for differentiation to be implemented by all educators is crucial. We cannot simply expose children to learning experiences that cater to the needs of a select group – one size does NOT fit all. In order for children to fully immerse themselves into learning, their experiences need to be authentically tweaked to fit their learning styles, interests, prior knowledge and personalities. Every student that enters the classroom brings perspectives and narratives unique to each individual – differentiation allows for students to explore multiple perspectives and narratives, while learning to honor and appreciate diversity. If we as educators hope to provide every student with a positive school experience, differentiation should be at the heart of our teaching practices.
There is a multitude of ways to differentiate in the classroom. The following are some ways to differentiate, along with examples of how I will achieve this throughout my journey as an educator: (Chapman and Gregory, pp. 3-5)
- Content: Includes what is being taught and the materials used to deliver information. Assignments given to students must cater to their learning styles, while also challenging them to develop new skills. When students are provided with a diversity of materials, deeper learning and ownership of knowledge acquisition can take place. This can include presenting content to students through a variety of mediums (for example, print and digital). Learning experiences need to be authentic and relevant – when a student can connect what they are learning to prior knowledge or experiences, critical thinking and reflection can occur.
- Assessment Tools – Performing a pre-assessment of prior knowledge and interests is important when differentiating. If we are able to understand what students know about content we will be teaching, we can better plan learning experiences suited to fit their learning styles. Assessment of learning can occur in many different ways and how we assess each student can be decided based on personalities. For example, some students may benefit from having conference-style conversations to discuss their learning progress, while other students may find this intimidating and prefer to be assessed through observation and anecdotal records.
- Performance Tasks – Allowing students to present their knowledge in a variety of ways is an effective way to differentiate performance tasks. Giving students choice in terms of how they show what they know fosters all learning styles and multiple intelligences. Allowing choice also encourages students to take ownership and responsibility over their learning – if they are doing something they are interested in, their engagement level will be higher!
- Instructional Strategies – Differentiating instructional strategies involves delivering information in a variety of ways. For example, instead of only delivering instructions for a task orally, you might include written and pictorial instructions to cater to more than one learning style. When one provides students with learning experiences that take different forms (games, lecture style, individual work, group work, etc.), learning remains exciting and appealing to all students. Differentiation of classroom environment can also influence instruction – how the classroom is structured can help students remain engaged in learning. This can include a diversity of seating arrangements, as well as using brain breaks, fidgets, noise blockers, etc.
How will I differentiate? The thought of providing all students with learning experiences that meet their needs is exceedingly overwhelming. I do not expect myself to ever be able to master the task of differentiating, however, I hope to try to provide positive learning experiences that cater to individual needs. Reflective teaching practices will allow me to adapt my teaching and assessment strategies, as well as classroom environment, as necessary – asking myself what is working, what is not, what could be changed, etc. Looking back on my personal school experiences as a child, I remember instances where I felt as though some experiences did not reflect my learning style – the effects of experiences such as this can be detrimental. Therefore, ensuring students feel confident and competent while learning is important; differentiation is the vital tool every educator needs in their toolbox in order to achieve this.
Gregory, G., & Chapman, C. (2013). One Size Doesn’t Fit All. In Differentiated Instructional Strategies: One Size Doesn’t Fit All (pp. 1-10). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.