Include students in assessment

Imagine you are golfing on a rolling green course which doesn’t have any flags to mark the holes. Your country club thinks it’s an unfair advantage to use flags. Good golfers, management believes, don’t need flags.

You tee off guessing in which direction to drive the ball.  On your second shot on a par 3, you aim for the left toward the two maple trees. You’re wrong. The hole is in line with the farmhouse. Frustrated, you need to take several strokes over par to sink the ball, even though you could have gotten a better score if you knew where the hole was.

Sandra Herbst and Anne Davies believe many assessments ask students to play golf on a course that doesn’t have any flags. Traditionally, the “stance” of educators has been to “stand across” from students and let them figure out what is expected of them in assessments.

In a recent webinar, Engage Students in Assessment to Boost Motivation, Learning and Achievement, Anne and Sandra say that to increase learning, educators need to adopt more of a “sit-beside” stance. They need to include students in the assessment process, not exclude them. Give them the information they need to perform to the best of their ability. To boost motivation and engagement, they need to inform their students about outcomes, learning intentions and destinations, criteria and providing evidence of learning, not keep it all under wraps.

One strategy to help students understand what they need to learn and do is for teachers to use work samples. In math, for instance, if students are able to examine sample problems, they can deconstruct what quality work is.   Students need to understand that we are asking them to make their thinking public.

When the assessment process is opened up, students no longer need “to line up at the teacher’s desk,” Anne and Sandra say, because now knowledge is shared among students and teachers.  Students can consult their peers or become their own coach by self-monitoring their own progress. Teachers’ professional judgment becomes stronger as a result of working through the assessment process with their students.

The stance of “sit beside” needs to replace the stance of “stand across” if  educators want to clearly see what students know and think.


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