For so many teachers, making an assessment has become so second nature that we rarely think about how were making it. It’s a lot like getting home from work after a long day—you’ve made it to your destination safe and sound but haven’t paused to give much thought to the mechanics involved in your journey. And if your anything like me, most of that commute consists of wondering if your lecture was well received, or if that reading was really necessary. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just kick back and dream about the delicious pile of pasta calling your name (mmm carbs)?
As an educator, you know that making assessments accounts for a lot of what you do, but, have you ever really taken a step back and thought about just how many assessments you make in a day, in a lecture, or Student meeting? What kind of impact do these assessments have on your teaching prowess? How are they impacting your students? What if I told you that putting a little more thought, creativity, and strategy into your classroom assessments can make your day run smoother, give you more classroom intel (aka: peace of mind), and take your teaching to that next level?
What are we really doing when we assess how effective our teaching strategies are or how well our students are absorbing the material we’re teaching? Simply put, we’re just gathering information. But like I was touching on before, the means by which we gather that information is just as important as the evaluations we make from that same data. And while most educators have a few tried and true assessment strategies up their sleeves, there’s always room for a little change and innovation. In fact, assessment can be incorporated into your lesson plan before teaching takes place, as the lecture transpires, and after formal learning has come to its conclusion. Although this all sounds like a lot of extra work, there are many ingenious and easy ways to conduct assessments before, during, and after lecture.
1. Before you even start your lecture:
Diagnostic assessments are those completed before you actually start teaching any sort of material. These are the initial assessments that you might make before delivering content on a specific subject and can help you evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of your classroom, what your students already know, what to teach and how to teach it. According to the Northern Illinois University, there are several types of diagnostic strategies, including:
- Student-teacher Interviews
- Content-Specific Discussion Board Responses
- Student Self-Assessment
While diagnostic assessments have the potential to be amazing teaching tools, with large class sizes, doing pre-assessment interviews with each and every student can become an impossible task. With that said, there are ways to streamline the diagnostic assessment process, and one of these amazing strategies comes in the form of interactive teaching platforms.
Interactive teaching platforms and technologies can make things like student self-assessment and pre-testing an enjoyable and informative part of your classroom. With edtech like Top Hat’s interactive teaching platform, you can engage your students in polls, questions, and discussions in real time, before you begin your lecture. This can help both you and your students to assess their strengths and weaknesses, what they already know about a subject, what they think they know, and it gives you the opportunity to rectify any misconceptions that might be present—all before actually delving into delivering teachable material.
You don’t need me to tell you that one of the most exciting thing about teaching, the thing that makes the hearts of educators sing, is blowing student preconceptions out of the water. Using diagnostic assessment strategies to challenge your student’s perceptions of what they already know and showing them that there is room for their knowledge to expand and change can ignite and rekindle a passion for learning. It just happens to be an awesome bonus that by employing these strategies, you can also make assessments about where your class is as a whole, the relevance of your subject matter, and how best to go ahead teaching it.
2. Asking your students to help you gather information:
Although formative assessments can be some of the most daunting to incorporate into your classroom, they play a critical part in helping you assess how well your students are doing as well as how your holding up your end of the bargain as an instructor. Formative assessments occur while learning is taking place, and can be implemented both inside and outside of the classroom. Implementing the right formative assessment strategy can help you track student progress and make necessary changes to your instructional approach.
Really and truly, there is a plethora of formative assessment strategies. Including but not limited to:
- Reflection Journals
- In-class Polls and Surveys
- Question and Answer sessions
- One minute essays or one sentence summaries
- Student-Teacher conferencing
Natalie Regier has put together an incredibly comprehensive list of formative assessment tools that focus on student centered learning. While there are so many fast and easy ways to make assess student progress in the classroom, one of my most favourite and tech-savy assessment tools to implement just so happens to occur outside of the classroom.
With platforms like Tumblr, WordPress, LiveJournal, Blogger, and a million-and-one other blogging avenues, blogs are probably the most (in my humble opinion) under-rated/under-utilized formative assessment tool in the shed. As a student myself, while I was completing my research for my Masters work, I kept a blog to record my thought process and any new interesting findings. First and foremost, as a student, it kept me motivated and interested in my research. Blogging also gave me a space to actively engage with what I was learning. Perhaps most importantly, it gave my supervisor an opportunity to check in on my progress without having to schedule meetings and if I was going way off the rails, she had the opportunity to pin-point where I might be losing my grasp on the material and re-direct me.
Consider having your students keep a really low-key blog. You can set up one giant platform and authorize each student as a contributor or have each student create their own blog and send you the link. The posts don’t need to be long or eloquent or take up a lot of time, but it will provide your students a space to engage with new material, see how their peers are engaging with that same material, and provide you with the means of checking in on student progress and making necessary adjustments to content-specific instruction strategies.
3. Summative Assessment:
Summative assessments are, basically, the end game. They occur after formal learning has taken place and can include everything from final examinations to anonymous course/instructor reviews. But there’s nothing is more summative then the process of deriving final grades for each student. “Final” is the key-word here, as in order for an assessment strategy to be truly considered summative, it cannot be altered or revisited at a later time.
Keeping in mind that the main goal of the summative assessment is to measure a final “product” and the “product” isn’t just student achievement, it’s also your performance as an instructor. Scary stuff right? But maybe it doesn’t have to be. Despite the lack of wiggle room in summative assessment strategies, they have the potential to be complete game changers in terms of your teaching proficiency.
Think of it this way, if your class collectively bombs an exam, you have a clear indicator that the material your teaching requires a new approach. Thankfully, by employing both diagnostic and formative assessment strategies before you the final exam, the collective bombing of an exam can basically be avoided entirely.
In the same way that we challenge our students to expand their knowledge and make room for growth, it’s the educators responsibility to challenge herself/himself. It can be as high-stakes as a final exam or as low-key as asking your students to submit an anonymous course review, any kind of assessment is an opportunity for reflection and growth. Sure, assessments are, at times, kind of intimidating (exam anxiety anyone?). They show us the good, the bad, and the ugly and force us to face some cold hard truths about our approach to learning and teaching. However, they also show us our triumphs, our champions, and give both students and teachers alike the opportunity to see their strengths in action.
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