So today I facilitated the first three sessions of a workshop on assessment with my teaching staff. I think we are getting closer to having a shared vision of what we want assessment to look like in our school, but I’ll get to that in a minute. First I want to report back on teacher’s conceptions of assessment.
I had each teacher (54 in all) fill out a continuum as to which degree they held nine different conceptions about assessment. They then shared and discussed the results with their table groups. I asked them to look at their results and see which, if any, conceptions all members of their group ranked similarly.
What we discovered is that as a staff we commonly hold two beliefs about assessment:
- It can improve learning.
- Assessment data is not always valid.
As we dug deeper into our beliefs about assessment and their origins, we discovered some interesting things. I asked everyone to tell one story of an assessment experience they had either as a child or as an adult learner. Not one story was about a positive experience. Now, part of this is likely due to the fact that we are hardwired to remember negative experiences better than positive ones, but for not one person to tell a positive story paints a picture! We decided we wanted something different for our students.
It also became clear during our sessions that there were many different interpretations of the word assessment. For some teachers, it only meant tests, and for others it covered a range from observations to interviews to performances to quizzes.
Here is some of the feedback from participants about the conceptions of assessment session, gathered by an exit slip:
“It has clarified that assessment takes many forms. There are many who still think of assessment as ‘formal standardised tests’. I think staff need to develop a stronger belief in observation and feedback as formative assessments.”
“Before, I made little time for self-assessment and the importance of it. This morning I realised the importance of it regarding student’s state of mind, mood, and understanding.”
“I used to think that assessment done at the end of a topic was accurate as it gave me as idea of what the child had learned. Now I understand that it is better to do an assessment before the end of the topic as this will give me information on how to reteach [the] topic using different strategies so students will have a better understanding.”
“That assessment need not be scary, but can be used as a driving force for learning (for children and teachers) in order to continually improve, motivate and celebrate progress and strengths.”
This last one resonated a common thread that came through the day, that we need to reframe assessment in our minds. We need to stop seeing it so narrowly and negatively and start embracing it as a powerful way to help our learners and ourselves.
Our second session focused on clarifying terms and developing a shared vision for assessment. They really enjoyed trying to make an assessment tool to judge the ‘tastiness’ of three different snacks and it helped to illuminate the need to be clear to students how their performance is going to be judged and the variety of ways we can find out about student learning. The teachers created everything from a pre-assessment poll to a rubric to evaluate the snack. And peanut M&M’s won.
We watched Sal Khan’s TED talk, Let’s teach for mastery – not test scores and this led to a powerful discussion about whether children should be able to re-do assessment tasks. Some staff members were adamant that it wasn’t fair to the other students which helped to unearth our conceptions about assessment as a form of competition and a way of ranking students. That conversation continued on into the staff room, as teachers reflected on the paradox in their views. On the one hand they want to encourage lifelong learning, and on the other they hold this notion that there should be a penalty for not knowing. I’m hopeful we’ve rooted that demon out!
After our final session, I asked the participants to write a statement about what they want assessment at our school to look like. Here’s a word cloud summarising their thoughts:
Overall I think we are all much clearer on our own personal conceptions of assessment and are closer to a shared vision and language. The next, and harder, step is to translate this into action so we can use assessment to empower our learners and given them “voice, choice and ownership” in their learning (International Baccalaureate, 2017, 1).
International Baccalaureate (2017). The Learner in the Enhanced PYP [PDF file]. Retrieved from: https://resources.ibo.org/pyp/topic/PYP-review-updates/resource/11162-46068/data/p_0_pypxx_amo_1711_1_e.pdf?c=2a4e9926