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?

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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

EDS 113 Module 1: Exams make the (students’) world go round

The cold hard truth is sometimes hard to swallow, especially this one
for teachers who actually believe in true assessments: exams are a
student’s world. We are judged by it, therefore we will kill for it, we
will die for it. Missing an exam is unheard of in UP, and I guess in
many othe colleges. And yet, we don’t understand why it defines us.

I remember a first semester season in UPLB at the PhySci building where
I found myself walking to take one of those popular 7-9pm departmental
exams. I was walking casually towards the second floor at the ICS (yes,
I was once a computer science major). I peeked thru the glass square of
the exam room door and I saw it filled with students; initial reaction
was puzzled then, shocked.

My instructor exited the door and greeted me, saying “O, late ka, Ms
Banal.” I didn’t even know he knew me.

I looked at my watch and it said 6:50pm and I clearly wasn’t late. My
feelings slowly turning into panic as I began to ask the people who are
getting out one by one that this is the finals I was going to take at
7pm, which turns out was moved to 5pm. My worst nightmare was realized.

Not that because I was burning oil night and day studying for this
exam, I generally don’t review for tests back in the day, but the
thought of mising an important event in a student’s life probably means
I will fail the course. All invested work all semester would have been
wasted, only because I missed the rescheduling announcement on this
one.

Let us imagine for a second the bar exam, the medical board exams, the LET. Learners are defined by exams, and truth be told, lives are dependent on it. Students toil the hardest on exams in the hopes of being rated highly, but isn’t that a form of deceit? An intentional, deliberate attempt to make your professor think you knew more than you actually do, all because you were able to cram meaningless terms in one, or some, all nighter? If that is the case then there is nothing genuine about this type of assessment.

And that is why I didn’t even bother pulling the pleas on the teacher and request another shot on the exam because I didn’t think I deserved to be judged based on a two-hour quiz. I reenrolled, and “killed it”, so to speak.

I now wonder if my course instructor tried to improve his teaching, or the program after finding the assessment results of my classmates.

Hello UPOU!

My name is Glenys Alene Banal, or just Glen Banal. Feel free to read and comment on my entries about my quest into becoming a serious educator. Why do my students act the way they do? What can I do about it? as just some of the questions I am faced with every day at my job.

I have full confidence that as I learn each module, each of the bits and bobs, a day at a time, I will be working towards improving and innovating learning for the young people who will be changing the world someday. And that is a tremendous responsibility I would like to own. Right now.