EDS 113 finale: The hike towards assessment success

The journey….

Several ‘aha’ moments during the duration of the course were had, especially in enumerating the different types of assessments. While some have been labeled for me, some have been identified for me to use. They were not hard to accept, because I was a somewhat creative teacher, and have learned how to isolate and asses somehow in my practice…

The summit…

Looking down on how have I done in terms of assessment, I have discovered a few misconceptions I have held about assessments:

1. Prelesson assessment is a waste of time
2. Formative assessments could be shallow in essence and may not produce real reflections anyway
3. Tests can me made in haste as long as it covers the necessary scope of the material

In retrospect…

In the true spirit of self- assessment, I have come up with a small list of things I have realized after taking EDS 113, and the pledge I wish to make in the quest to improve my practice:

1. Pre-lesson assessment is important as much as post-lesson measurements are. Pre lesson assessment directs where to steer lessons in the interest of engagement and time- economy.

2. Formative assessments are a valuable information mine such that strategically devised ones have power to raise academic performance.

3. KYS (know your student) is not necessarily emotional but rather a highly logical tactic to be able to accurately gather important student data. I used to think that knowing your students is not as valuable as scores, but evaluations made through observations and prior experience with them shows how accurate they are in predicting future performance

4. Standardized tests is insufficient as an assessment if taken alone by itself. These things aren’t wrong as they are, but they heavily need back up in the forms of informal assessment methods. Teachers cannot take the easy route and dish out solely traditional forms and hold to them as the ends of education.

5. I would be an advocate of a movement towards greater accuracy in assessments by determining what are valuable information and what are not; what makes students respond to engage them to get high- quality data; employ an adapt-and -adjust strategy to reveal misconceptions and expose opportunities to instruct; stick close to assessment ‘authenticism’ by discovering scenarios where the assessments have a real- world application and value especially in the student’s own contexts (play, home life, intrapersonal, interpersonal).

Earl, L. (2006 April 27). Rethinking Classroom Assessment with Purpose in Mind [webinar]. In Webcast for Educators. Retrieved from http://www.curriculum.org/k-12/en/videos/rethinking-classroom-assessment-with-purpose-in-mind

EDS 113 Assignment 2:Four teacher traits to make that exam a ‘game’

Looking for sample assessments, especially the non traditional ones, proved not as easy. As a teacher going through printed assessments after another, I have realized that there indeed is a serious lack of alternative forms. I began to wonder if teachers have gone lazy that while some do care, most of us have reported to what is available and what is easy. The importance of being accurate and sure of the results cannot be any more emphasized, because like we have learned in the past, the stakes are so high for learners assessments should not be made in a cavalier fashion.

So what are the necessary teacher traits that one needs to have to be able to assess the accurate way?

Not that I consider myself a good teacher (that is for others to say, wink), but I think I may be considered a good assessor. I like to make sure that I probe quite deeply into what I wish to know about my students in any way possible. Thinking of ways on how to incite interest and mitigate boredom to me is equally important to obtain genuine data, and I have realized that this requires a bit of creativity. Creating assessments that not only measure accurately (having the objectives in mind), but something that will also reflect real data demands an exciting format. To me, an effective assessment can make students feel like that it is possible to have a safe environment and have lots of fun while revealing what they know and don’t know yet.

Concern for students is something that most teachers claim to have, and I do believe in them, but in my experience, it is a real necessity to be able to push teachers to go the extra mile and create fitting and applicable testing methods. Assessments are not a one size fits all, and it is sometimes hard to see one perfect worksheet for one class applies to the specific needs of another. Sometimes teachers have to take real interest in obtaining authentic results.

Teachers need to be inquisitive- persistent in assessing student learning; it is highly important to be curious, hungry to know your students, their capabilities and incapabilities, their weak spots and their strengths. Wanting to know these can help pick up the drive into making purposeful tests, and teachers should not stop twisting questions around until one gets to the most vulnerable (and often times, revealing) areas.

The machine that operates all of these traits is self- reflection. While creativity and innovativeness, concern, inquisitiveness and persistence all play into the creation of good assessments, reflection determines how we can be innovative, concerned and persistent. If teachers walk around being mindful of how assessments can benefit both him or her and the students, then teachers will know how to treat results right. Do we toss it around and pose it as a final grade? Or do we investigate further because there is fair justification of the student’ inconsistencies? How will teachers make it fair for everybody? Teachers pose these
types of questions all the time and the truth is, it only needs a bit more thought in order to shape old, traditional assessments into exciting challenges. Teachers are still allowed to call it an exam, though.

EDS 113 Module 4: Why the topnotcher is not (necessarily) the smartest in the class

I went around today asking my coworkers who happen to be literacy and numeracy teachers at an enrichment center seeking their views on their beliefs on grades, specifically summative assessment grades (or report card figures). They start digging up in their past experiences, dating back in grade and high school, when all that matters is either academic rank, or coolness rank. Concentrating on academic rank, some of them who claimed they do not 100 per cent believe grades are a true reflection of intelligence or learning progress in mark equivalency said that they know more than one person who were, in their opinion, way more mentally advanced than the first in class, also know as the Top 1. This has struck me as I probably felt the same way more than once in my own classroom experience as a learner, and
sometimes as a teacher.

One of the teachers at my job claimed that hard work- laziness could significantly improve one’s rank. She claimed further that due to the traditional format of the school system, results could be skewed by intense review and studying before examinations. Very much agree. The review pre test- forget post test has proven so effective that all my coworkers know someone who mirrored the said technique (or perhaps themselves). Another pointed out that no matter how appropriate or highly prepared the assessment are, other intelligences may come into play such that one’s intelliegence domain (see M.I. by Gardner) may be mismatched into the institution one is in. According to her, a student who may have a slant towards a visual- spatial reasoning may do very poorly forcing himself in a liberal degree (and underperforming) when he could be in technical school learning how to reverse- engineer cars.

I stopped and thought about these views and thought that one of the two could be right: we might all be hating on the Top 1 of our respective classes, or they might have a valid point.

But before debunking all thoughts about the way we traditionally grade students, I wish to offer another insight. Our center keeps a strictly small teacher to student ratio, such that maximum number of students is 2 and 4 for reading and math, respectively. I wish to insist how it is still possible to rate and mark the learners accurately thru meaningful and deliberate formative assessments, and high quality constructed summative assessments, and how that keeps marks and progress reports accurate in describing what it needs to describe. Then were do teachers go wrong?

Perhaps grading trickiness is proportional to class size. What this means is that as the class grows in size, so does the lack of accuracy. It could be that a smaller class allows for more differentiated instruction and then differentiated assessment, and this relationship is what creates high fidelity grades and feedback. A larger class may be deindividualizing students into mere ‘group members’ and teachers may tend to generalize more as the class grows in number. I am always highly confident that my one on one student is almost always on the right track as I enjoy greater freedom in making teacher made worksheets and assessments, not having to consider to accommodate anybody. Comparing it to how I handled my 14 year old ESL class in Hanoi, Vietnam a long time ago where I would attempt to describe them in a few adjectives when asked about by my supervisor. Making some sense.

EDS 113 Module 3E: My classroom realities on differentiation

So many teachers have dreamed of differentiating classroom assessments, and one can imagine the clamor to incorporate such into formal curricula, but the perceived disadvantages seem to continue to outweigh the benefits. What really is the current state of our teachers and classrooms that something as beneficial, even exciting, as differentiated assessments cannot penetrate most class instruction? or, if implemented (or attempting to), what are the struggles in differentiation? Let me make my own classroom as a case study.

I work at a numeracy and literacy enrichment center, which is short for an after school facility. The owners are very amiable and generous, but as teachers there, I and my coworkers understand that there is always a business side to things. Two to four students are accommodated at a single class, regardless of level, with only student and teacher availability as basis for the placement. Students come in for an hour’s worth of session, multiple times a week, with usually the same classmates. Which means our number one enemy is the time constraint. It is not a joke to actually be concerned about student progress and care how every student may benefit from their 60 minutes if a single teacher is constantly bombarded by a five year old on one side of the desk, and then a 14 year old, and then an 11 on the other. All three clearly needed some type of attention, and for the most part, it is impossible to speak to more than one at the same time (we wish we can, and we sure tried).

Second is the lack of rigid scheduling. Although like I said earlier, we are trying to understand this as it is one on the business side, and at this point, the center has decided that we cannot afford to refuse a student only because the teacher only cared to admit same- level pupils at a given time slot.

Third and last is the lack of preparation time. Teachers at our center prepare for their classes during their lunch hour, or force themselves to report to work very early. Sometimes, as much as we dislike doing so, we are forced to prepare some materials during another student’s class, and we hate to be in this position. But it’s better than no preparation at all. Management seem to scrimp on this because again, it is hard to lose a whole hour, which again meant losing business.

Me and my coworkers continue to seek a solution somehow on how to reconcile issues on differentiation of instruction and of assessment and the lack of allowance on matters of resources and time, so for now, we continue to do our best and multitask by rehersing talking to two people at the same time.

EDS 113 Module 3D: Teachers’ problems with self assessment

There is a serious lack of alternative forms of assessment in today’s classrooms that could be blamed on the unpopularity of creative approaches in teachers. Perhaps the latter are forced to resort to less than creative means due to institutional pressure and tradition. An example of an yet widely used measure is self- assessment.

Lack of knowledge about alternative forms of assessments such as this possibly hamper its usage in classes. Teachers (and students) may have a good few concerns about leaving highly prized final grades to students, while some students lack the confidence to rate themselves or their classmates.

Intellectual independence and a critical mind ties closely with the ability to accurately asses the self. while teachers may claim that such learner traits are developed in their classrooms anyway, then what seems to be the problem? A huge and hard to penetrate hurdle is the culture of distrust between institutions and students. Students may feel the same way, but teachers generally aren’t too confident either of their students’ capability to critique and analyze.

Personally, I think teachers need to get exposed and professionally educated on other types of assessments that are pragmatic, applicable, executable and sustainable. It is only deserving of students to be offered the best possible form of incorporation in their classes through the practice of more practical but intelligent testing and measures such as self- assessments. Not only does it foster higher order thinking, but could actually be exciting, too. Win- win.

EDS 113 Module 3C: Living in academic utopia (where alternative assessments reign superior)

In my ideal world, the schools are clean, not because there are many janitors, but because students have self-assessed and they have decided that cleaning up after themselves is the best learning environment. They may not be as prim and proper, but they sure have the ability to regulate their behavior, after much reflection.

Parents are not distrustful of teachers, in fact, they respect what they do. They have realized that enrolling their children at a school is tantamount to granting trust that the administration knows what they are doing. Petty complaints are scarce, bickering against teachers and staff very uncommon. That is the parens also know the importance of peace and a harmonious environment as conducive to teachers and students being able to deliver their expectations. They also respect students and their youthful, sometimes illogical reasoning, but the difference is the parents do not dismiss them as nonsense. Youthful views are welcome, and they are equally welcome to be dispelled by the new and growing knowledge they receive in school.

Teachers are learned, knowledgeable, strategic and fun. They are lifelong learners, they are hungry for more. They receive periodic professional development from the school, encouraged to eat healthy to avoid that 2pm slump, plenty of fruits and good snacks in the pantry so they do not need to drown in refillable coffee. They are not forced into anything but they readily choose a lifestyle that reflects what they preach. They garner the respect of their colleagues as well as students.

But most of all, it is common knowledge that teaching and learning could be fun. It is not all fun and games every day but the students can see the advantages of what they work hard for in school. They persevere not only to pass an assessment but the end of their school life is deemed as important as the means. Assessments are not limited to pencil and paper, but there is much freedom to enjoy in performances, collating work, debates, round table discussions. In fact they enjoy their chit chat with the teachers and do not think of them as someone who will readily judge at the drop of a hat. The students welcome being corrected because their teachers have created an environment of friendship and trust. There are still summative tests, though, but it resembles so much more like the agora than a local public high school.

Grades are not reflections of their weaknesses but a reflection of what the students need to adjust in themselves. Parents do not punish for a low mark, instead they seek a dialogue with the grown friends the students call Misses and Misters.

EDS 113 Module 3B: How high are the stakes we put on assessments of learning?

In most modern education facilities everywhere, the culture of assessing the learning of students by way of a single moment of performance is something that scares me, both for the teacher and for the students. If being judged by an isolated test devoid of context is not daunting enough, it seems to me that people who advocate a sole yardstick such as a summative assessment to determine a student’s future genuinely believes that our learning in any area of knowledge is something applied in isolation, staring down pages upon pages of test questions. I had to say that this is almost never the case. Even engineers and people of science simply do not perform science for the sake of it, but is applied math and science that they do.

Personally, I think it is hurting our chances of coming up with real and pragmatic solutions to the issues of our society and the world as well if we continue to put our biggest eggs in the traditional testing basket. To come up with genuine answers to these problems is to surround us in different gray areas, a color not seen in an examination paper. It takes a real sit down, brainstorm, exchange of ideas and in depth synthesis of current and background information to be able to solve issues. And see, talking is illegal (and sharing of ideas) in a testing room.

This is not to say that summative assessments are never necessary, because they are. But to put such weight on it and constantly bombard young minds that they can never be more than anything of what is written on a marked paper is a grossly misled belief. In the classroom, why not advocate for more reflective self assessments within a safe environment, than be busy dishing out worksheets and scary term exams? What about more well- rounded tests in various forms and activities to aid evaluation?

EDS 113 Module 3A: Preschool instruction: Informal assessments in action (in restrospect)

My kindergarten teaching job in Hanoi was one of my favorite, if not it, jobs I have ever held since I began my teaching years. As much as I have loved the pay, the working hours, the local celebrity status I have enjoyed in our small suburban district (yes, teachers can be famous), I especially loved learning so much from my students. They have taught me more than I have taught them, and I love each one of their tiny selves in tidbits for making the part of the teacher I am today. Now when I say I loved learning about them and from them, the former meant learning about young students’ learning process, while the latter meant in the pedagogical sense. Looking back, I now understand that there is a name for the evaluation and endless
observations I performed on them (while of course, toying with hand paint and running around in the play ground)– that something is called informal assessment.
Let me name some of the methods I have used.

First, observation is key in child assessment. They reveal so much about what kinds of personalities they possess. Are they a sharers? Inquirers, curious and the like? Can they handle delaying gratification? Do they like singing, acting, writing, making pictures, talking? Are they the type to feign incompetence when trapped in an embarrassing situation? Do children even know the concept of embarrassment? I speak to all of them or have some type of individual interaction on a daily, as well as with their parents who pick them up or drop them off. Speaking to parents is a normal occurrence and these parents are the type who are very curious about how their children are outside their watch. I was happy to report new discoveries each day and this has also kept my record keeping for each of the students sharp, fresh and updated.

Running records are generously mentioned as a popular form of informal assessment, especially in preschool education, and for a good reason. My records are peppered with anecdotes and I am never short of them every day, and while entertaining to some, it served as basis data when a behavior is taking shape in a child. If one consistently displayed out of character behaviors in a certain span of time then it could be a sign of something else, perhaps toddler stress.

Having keenly observed and took notes on these behavior, I felt that I could contribute to how to prevent them in the future. I hoped to harbor positive energy in my classroom to be able to bring about learning: to better appreciate causalities and effects, among others.

Other informal (and indirect) methods that I used were interpreting their paper output such as doodles, pictures even speech. They all helped me assess where they are in terms of our school life activities, which all are consolidated in our semi annual reports.

Now that I have realized that these methods were actually a form of genuine assessments, it has been helping me in handling my current students. Back during the day when I thought of them as less than formal– but necessary and valuable– it has remained in me to make sure that I assess my students, young or old, in the same fashion I did before in that school in Vietnam: accurate and analytical.

Morrison, G.S. (2013). Informal Methods of Assessment. Retrieved from http://www.education.com/reference/article/informal-methods-assessment/

EDS 113 Assignment 1: Correcting lesson (and human) misalignments

Two thousand and twelve was the year I began making a living teaching teachers how to write lesson plans, objectives and assessment creation. I thought, it could not be that hard for people if you are someone with a bit of sense of pedagogical direction. In those few years of observation, I have seen how some new teachers struggle with determining objectives, while some breezed through making teacher- made assessments. But somehow after Module 2 and assignment 1, I have visibly seen how and where a lesson can fall apart.

Misalignments can occur at any point of the lesson, and it is not always easy to spot them (even experienced teachers falter in this area). Until your student comes admitting to you that he does not understand what to do with the activity.

Your student’s inability to proceed is a huge red flag for teachers and curriculum developers that an instructional misalignment may have occurred. If you teach typical classroom kids with a healthy sense of perception, a properly scaffolded instruction should yield overall comprehension (if the instruction is well rounded, considering Bloom’s taxonomy).

In this course task, our team has suffered through some misalignments in trying to come up with the final objectives, possibly due to some colleague–maybe– misalignment. Both the set of objectives and the set of assessment activities were edited back and forth, while some more were being debated over the fictitious students age group . In the end, some had to give way to the majority, and then some ideas were killed while some ideas prospered.

Here are some takeaways from the task:
1. Learning objectives is not an easy concept to some;
2. Rubrics- writing looked like a challenging task, especially if you do not have years of experience teaching. It requires serious student data;
3. Instructional misalignment can be avoided if you know three things by heart: your students, your content and your school;
4. It is important to know what you want out of any session from the get go and articulate that in the objective at once, as it is difficult to align then re-align assessment if you are being fickle about the former;
5. You cannot always win; it is important to understand where a colleague is coming from.

EDS 113 Module 2: Reinventing the (assessment) triangle

In Lorna Earl’s webinar Classroom Assessment with Purpose in Mind (27 April 2006), she labelled and compared the three major assessments teachers (and students) employ. She presented how they are formatted and applied, according to given and perceived importance in most institutions and society in general.

The traditional triangle that has assessment of occupying the priority hierarchy, assessment for in the middle, and at the tip is assessment as, she believes, is outdated and inconsistent with the modern global education we need to be advocating in this age. She further stressed that new educators need to begin putting more emphasis into teaching techniques in knowledge acquisition, rather than feeding straight facts.

Instead of teaching our planet is round, teachers need to be asking their students why does the horizon decrease in size with distance, what is perspective, and visual
demonstrations of the different possible shapes of the earth to arrive at a conclusion, Dr Earl argued. Students need to reflect, analyze then assert. Metacognition is vital, and the reinvention of the “teaching wheel”, or more accurately, this traditional triangle need to be changed.

She suggested, and I agree like most of us I presume, that assessment as learning should be the most encouraged form of assessment, as it is done by the self, and is voluntary. Here, she said that students no matter the age need to take charge by taking an active role in their own learning; being aware of what goes in must be mentally processed, and should come out better.

It might be safe to say that Dr Earl’s call towards reinforcing assessment as learning is to cure widespread indifference in the learning sector. We see it everyday– the college graduate who, despite 14 years of education, finds himself underequipped, scared and generally clueless; the student who only “studies” for an exam, then┬álets go after the test; the preschooler who is reprimanded for incorrect answers, and the uncreative employee who knows nothing but go by the book may well be our future if teachers do not start teaching the “important stuff they don’t teach you in school”. In the very classroom we are all supposed to learn skills and the ways of life, both teachers and learners need to be proactive.

Then you could call self assessment as the ultimate learning hack.

 

 

Earl, L. (2006 April 27). Rethinking Classroom Assessment with Purpose in Mind [webinar]. In Webcast for Educators. Retrieved from http://www.curriculum.org/k-
12/en/videos/rethinking-classroom-assessment-with-purpose-in-mind