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A weblog designed to share Geography resources with students and colleagues

Monday, November 02, 2009

Assessing the future

Categories: Other
This is one of those posts where I think it probably shouldn't be on my class blog, but seeing as it stems from my class responses, I am housing it here. I have been asked along to a meeting about assessment by a colleague from the SQA. It's really made me question what I do and how I approach assessment in the classroom and at home. I have always felt that I have tried to vary the type of assessment I use in my teaching, using peer assessment regularly further up the school where there is pressure to teach to the exam. Here are a couple of examples of this- a collaborative wiki and videoing students talking about their work while inviting their peers to comment on the final result. In a discussion with my headteacher and one of our depute heads recently, I argued that this allowed me to teach the topics in a way that hopefully engaged students but also deepened their understanding. I also pointed out that creating time had not had an adverse impact on exam results and would suggest that it was one of the things that had facilitated a good performance. I'm now questioning whether students would agree with that, and whether they really recognise they were being assessed at all in instances like that.

My reason for this is on the back of a bit of preparation for the forthcoming meeting I mentioned. I decided to do a formal and anonymous survey of one of my s1 classes to see first of all what they thought assessment was all about, secondly when they felt their work was valued and finally how they would like to be assessed in future. I based this on one completed unit where children had taken a traditional end of unit test, but had also been assessed by each other and themselves (creating and playing games to develop map knowledge, self assessment of skills and knowledge in favela building, peer assessment of the final buildings, using etherpad to collaborate and debate, sharing and answering each others questions about a topic as homework, peer feedback on carnival songs etc). I wordled the main questions and the results are below:

How my students defined assessment

Wordle: s1 view on assessment

Where they felt their work was valued and by whom

Wordle: Where my s1 felt their work was valued

and finally, how they would like to be assessed in future

Wordle: How my s1 would like to be assessed in future

I wasn't totally surprised but was a little disappointed that tests and testing was so prevalent in what kids thought assessment was about and also how they would like to be assessed. I think there are a lot of reasons for that. I think that tests are the known, children are comfortable with them and also, many have that competitive edge. Marks make it easy to compare performance, even if it's usually testing knowledge over skills. From broadening the discussion to my s6, what also came through was that this is really what students value over everything else. It's what the unis and, most importantly, their parents expect and many don't mind alternative methods but don't really see an overall value in them. When we got deeper into that discussion, however, the Advanced Higher students started to really contradict their own assertions. Where are the skills development? We are spoon fed. Too much value is given to the results. And so on and son on... I had to actually remind some of the students that they were the same ones who complained when I refused to give them a written note on work last year and asked them to think for themselves. I am not blaming the students for that confusion or that attitude to assessment, I know there is a huge cultural change which needs to take place involving teachers, students, parents, further ed and employers before people change their minds about exam results and their absolute importance. I also think from a personal point of view I have failed in being completely clear to students when and how they are being assessed. I am pretty certain that because I have not made that explicit, my s1 don't really recognise when they are involved in self or peer assessment, they just see it as another learning activity. I am also pretty sure that had we not had the discussion we did today, my Advanced Higher would be the same about the opportunities they had to peer assess.
One of the other things that came through from both the survey and the discussions is that absolute trust that the teacher is always the authority. When I put this to my s6 that sometimes constructive criticism of a piece of work from a peer would be something more easily accepted, only one student agreed and the rest had no faith in themselves to be a critical friend for others. 73% of my s1 felt that observations by a teacher were the most important feedback that they would receive. I felt that this was at odds with comments that the most critical person of a students work was the student themselves.
The survey had more surprises and some reassuring elements, but to sum up, I still feel that the variety of assessment offered is in the correct interests of the students. The majority of students I questioned and the survey support the fact that students felt most valued when they were involved in team activities, were praised by their peers or by the teacher. When looking at future assessment, students still wanted testing but the dominant theme was recognition for work, and on further questioning, students stated that review of work should be a continuous one. My own role has to be clearer in letting students know they have been assessed, and students must see their progress in terms other than that end of unit test. Finally, my survey has made me realise that changing established views about assessment is going to be a long process, but one which I think can be done. It's up to educators to convince others that new forms of assessment have the rigour and validity of tests while helping develop the whole child rather than just a child with a decent memory.


At 10:24 am, Blogger Paula Owens said...

I really enjoyed reading this - thought provoking, stimulating, - thanks.

At 10:33 am, Blogger GeoBlogs said...

Good work Kenny. Will extract elements of this to discuss with some colleagues at a conference next week....

At 9:36 am, Blogger Wendy North said...

I agree with colleagues that you've raised some very interesting points for us to think about. I wonder what the response of much younger pupils would be. I'm reading this at a very oportune time as I've just been writing an edition on assessment for the CfSA Primary Subjects publication.


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