If we view assessment as a way for the learner to forge a pathway forward, towards commonly held and co-constructed expectations, we need a way to guide the learner along their learning pathway, a guide wire of sorts. Assessments have a longstanding tradition of being more about mark generation. Slowly there is a growing voice and collective understanding of assessment as a means to provide useful, timely and relevant information about learning….to the learner, so they can guide themselves, towards their expectations.
Think of the mountain climber trying to make the first ascent up a certain mountain, when the first attempt does not work she will have to revise and plan a new route. Moreover one pathway might be successful for one mountaineer but not the next, it depends on the conditions, the mountaineer and their equipment. Make no mistake; every mountaineer will set out with some form of equipment to receive regular and ongoing feedback about where they are going.
How might we provide such feedback for our students on their learning journey without tainting it with points?
Below are 5 point free assessment strategies. Maybe you have some to add!
1. Hot Seat or Interview: To create a community of learners we need to have ongoing and regular conversations about learning. If learning is important let’s talk about it! To have meaningful conversations we need a commonly held lexicon of learning (don’t you love how that sounds?). Students need the time, space and opportunity to discuss the nuances of their learning journey. Instead of points being the language of learning we need to work consistently to create words to give life to how learning looks and feels for the learner to use (as opposed for the teacher to use about the learner).
Setting aside a regular time for these conversations to occur embeds it in the classroom routine and signals to students that talking about learning is valuable. A formal conversation also gets the ball rolling for having continuous, ongoing casual conversations with students and between students. Students would often conference with each other before sitting down with me.
I had “Hot Seat” appointments with students the week before heading into a “test” (an opportunity to show their learning). If students weren’t ready, it allowed us to create a plan of action based on their specific situation. Alternatively if the student was feeling uncertain about certain topics this provided the student a chance to have one on one time with me to clarify. It also provided me the teacher, rich information about each learner and convinced me that students can self-assess with accuracy (more accurately than I could with points).
The information that came from Hot Seat indicated to both me and the student how the student would do on the upcoming test. Instead being a surprise, the test became validation of evidence we had already examined.
2. Test in advance: There is a belief that if we show students the test in advance then “it will be too easy” or somehow not fair. Nothing can be further than the truth! Even with test in hand, student still struggle to build schema around concepts and develop vocabulary to communicate their ideas fully. Learning is a process and we want students to be growing towards fixed targets rather than crashing into invisible ones.
3. Group Quizzes: Inviting students to writing quizzes as a learning opportunities rather than point collection opportunities for the teacher, changes the whole vibe of quiz writing.
“Yes please cheat!” “Please ask your table what they think the best answer to the question is!” “Please try to figure out the answer together!”
Quizzes are a great example of just in time learning (instead of just in case) and show clearly that students ARE motivated to learn, just maybe not be at the exact second we want them to.
4. Clear learning targets: When students are explicitly aware of the learning targets it becomes easier for them to hit them. Not only do I think so, but there is data to support this. Hattie calls this: Self-Reported grades, as he explains succinctly here.
But seeing believing and after watching student’s self-assess (based on standards that related specifically to the course, see examples here) I grew confident that they could accurately tell me how they were doing.
5. Learning Journals: As the mountaineer needs time to map out a new route, students need quiet time in and with their own thinking to map out their plan of action. Providing regular class time for reflection signals it is a valuable part of the learning cycle. I used in expensive copy books which stayed in the classroom.
The greatest effects on student learning occur when the teachers become learners
of their own teaching and ………when students become their own teachers.