Patrick Higgins, Jr.

Assessment that Informs

In change on March 15, 2009 at 10:19 am

A couple of days before I came to ASCD, I gave some real thought to what I view as my weaknesses as an educator.  Not only those that I have now in administration, but also those I had in the classroom.  One glaring element that always makes me cringe to think about, in that I realize that I never did it well, is the use of assessment in the process of learning.  Too often, I fell into the category of solely using summative evaluations, and then not taking the information those summative tests, quizzes or papers and acting on them.  It wasn’t until the last few months I spent in the classroom that I really began to look at how I used formative assessment and misconception analysis to drive instruction.  Then, of course, I moved out of a full-time classroom.

That move, however, didn’t stop me from exploring formative assessment in my professional development classes.  Last year, in fact, I wrote about how we use some very quick assessment strategies with our new teachers when we meet with them in their induction program.  Those strategies I wrote about were embedded into the ideas we were trying to teach and reflect a philosophy I wish all presenters/teachers would follow:

If you are teaching them about using a strategy in the classroom, teach them by doing the strategy, and then have them do the strategy in front of you.

Today I sat in Robin Fogarty and Brian Pete’s session called Informative Assessments: When It’s Not About a Grade.  Much like last year’s session with Deborah Estes, this was a session in which the presenters walked the talk.  We were learning about three types of assessment:

  • Routine Assessments: used everyday
  • Reflective Assessments: many days, deliberate ways
  • Rigorous: some days, thought-provoking ways

From the start of the session, they had us engaged and interacting with one another using some cooperative learning strategies and some questions from Sidney Parnes.  We were given the task of viewing this video, a clip from The Simpsons called “How the Test was Won.  Then we stepped into a “Three Musketeers” activity where we got up and walked around with our hands up until two other people met our hands.  We then became a quick group.  The two questions were simple, but connective:

  • How can you connect this to something you already know?
  • How can you use this in the future?

Any chance I can get to push my thinking, I’ll take.  Their statement that followed listening to some of the answers from the groups crystallizes a lot of the buzz I’ve been hearing at this conference:

THE PERSON DOING THE TALKING IS THE PERSON DOING THE LEARNING.

If I can go back to my district and put that into my own practice more often, I can’t think of any better improvement I could make that would transfer the responsibility onto my learners, and give me a glimpse into what they are thinking and learning.

Another element they introduced today was the idea of using the “one-minute challenge” to push learners to write with purpose and meaning for only a minute, which was interesting because they preceded that minute by a full minute of complete and motionless silence.  What a settling event that was.  I didn’t look at twitter, didn’t write down any notes, I just sat.  When it was time to write for a minute, I was calm and ready to think.  From that minute’s writing we again shared with a partner and set goals about what we’d like to do in the next minute to improve our thinking.

Goal-setting in a micro way.  I liked that too.

While I didn’t walk away from this session an expert on assessment, I did begin to see how easily we can set up formative assessment systems that give us the information we need to see how our students are doing.  By breaking the classroom down into these three categories:

  • what do we want students to know?
  • how will we know that they know it?
  • what will we do if they don’t?

it gives me a plan of action when I work with teachers.  The question becomes how to model that for my teachers, because the goal is to get them thinking at this level about their instruction.

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