Assessment: The How & Why

Blooms new taxonomy: addressing learning styles and authentic learning and assessment

School. So often in the k-12 experience, teachers provide a text book, assign a chapter or unit, and then administer a written test.  Usually in multiple choice format, maybe matching definitions or dates, a few true or false questions, and perhaps an essay or short answer or two.  The grade supposedly reflects what you learned.  Students study the night before (good students may study a few days in advance). They memorize information (dates, characters, definitions). They then regurgitate it on the day of the assessment.  What is measured? The ability to memorize information?  The ability to take standard, traditional tests? Have students actually learned, and I mean really learned, the information, process, thoughts? How do we know?  My point is, are we measuring learned information and skills or are we measuring strategies of memorization and test taking?

When I was in high school and undergraduate college, I remember taking history classes. I actually enjoy history now, but not in those classes.  We had huge, thick textbooks. We completed a unit on World War II or some other time in history. We memorized important dates, treaties, people, events.  We took the unit test; usually a series of multiple choice questions, a few matching, and a series of short answer or essay questions, all requiring us to regurgitate the information we memorized.  I struggled on these tests immensely!  I did not retain much of anything in long term memory, except when it was something that really interested me. Why? – because I was neither engaged in the learning nor moving any information into long term memory. When we were done with that unit, I didn’t need to know the information again until the mid-term exam or final exam, at which point I would repeat the cramming process. (I didn’t do well on those exams either).

These types of assessments, referred to as summative assessments may have their place, but it is important to know what they truly measure and what they do not.  Summative assessments provide summary information in a formal method, often administered at the end of a unit or course where all students take the same assessment (usually written).   As Rose & Meyer attest in Teaching Every Student in the Digital Age: Universal Design for Learning,  most of these types of assessments do not accommodate individual differences.  Furthermore, it’s questionable whether a teacher is gathering the intended data. The summative assessment is not providing the instructor with information on the effectiveness of teacher methodology, it is not identifying the barriers or needs of the individual students, it is not indicating the causes of success or failure. A summative evaluation is providing information related to a student’s ability to be successful in this type of test-taking, the ability for some students to affectively memorize and demonstrate memorization in a summative assessment format, and in cases where being able to take these types of assessment are necessary it will determine the preparedness of this format of testing (for instance a class for the Certified Nursing Assistant will need to ensure a student is prepared to participate in the state-directed traditional format assessment to become certified).

So, in the example above in my experience in history classes, not only should the method of instruction provide for the learning differences among students; multiple means of gaining meaningful information, varying instruction methods, and the like, but the assessment process must be a formative one. In other words, when formative assessments are used, teachers and students both benefit. Ongoing measurement in a variety of formats, as supported by the concept of Universal Design for Learning (UDL), provides for learner differences and provide meaningful information for the teacher to address needed supports and change in teacher methodology to ensure all students are being taught the intended curriculum.

Teaching the content of history with video, story-telling, linking history to current day trends, would have engaged me in the learning. Providing opportunities to create my own story, illustrate time periods, create plays, research music from the different time periods in history, create visual timelines, and provide creative means to express what knowledge I have gained would have accurately taught and measured my success. I would have been ENGAGED. I would have been able to self-assess my progress. The teacher would have known if she reached me and if I learned. She would have motivated me in my own learning. And, instead of memorizing and regurgitating dates and places and names, I would have been able to hold a conversation about a time in history, probably even using those dates and times and places!

We must ENGAGE our students in the learning process and ALSO ENGAGE them in the formative and authentic evaluations of their learning.

Animated video about Authentic Assessment. (http://youtu.be/c_gibuFZXZw)

Authentic Assessment Wordle

Next Blog Post: The UDL Framework and Assessment Approach: Strengths and Challenges.

Active Learning

What is the difference between Learning and Active Learning? Isn’t ALL learning active learning? No!!!

Imagine yourself in a classroom, one that if you are my age you’ve experienced many times over in middle or more likely high school or even college.  You are sitting upright in your seat, likely a hard wooden or plastic seat attached to the desk portion, inseparable with a lovely metal basket attached underneath so you can fit whatever notebook or book you need on the little desk part.

You and your classmates are sitting in neat rows facing the front of the room, where most likely there is an expansive wall sized chalk board.  The teacher is likely up there and somewhere on the board it might say the date or the name of the class and the teacher’s name, in case you somehow forgot it.  Maybe, if you have a more progressive teacher, on the chalkboard might be an objective for the day or an outline of what today’s classwork might be about. Maybe it says “Algebra I, Mr. Smith, pp.35 odd questions 1 – 25”. Or maybe it says “Psychology, Mrs. Smith, Test on Thursday Chapters 5 & 6”. Or, in more modern times it may read “English 11, What are five examples of symbolism in chapters 4 and 5?”

Reflect on those classes.  Did you learn? Well, you may have. But did you learn all that you could learn? Did you learn the information to retain it, to use it, to understand it. Did you ENJOY learning?

Now, consider this.  You are sitting in your classroom. But, this time there are tables in a U-shape.  Students are sitting in cushioned chairs at these tables, two people to a table.  At one end of the classroom is a Promethean board (a white board interactive board that acts as a white board, a computer screen, a projector screen, and a touch screen). In the center of the u-shape arrangement of tables are smaller tables with three-dimensional sculptures of various shapes.  Hanging from the ceiling are a series of mobiles that other students have made.  Along one wall are tables with computers and ipads. The class bell rings. You look to the white board where a projector has video swimming across the screen with words like “triangle” and “trapezoid” and shapes rotate in 3-D on the screen. The teacher allows this to play for a few minutes.  Then a question comes across the whiteboard.  The teacher reads the question “What properties of a Trapezoid and a Triangle are similar?” She asks everyone to reach for their smart phones and text their answers to a listed number on the board. Within seconds results are displayed on the board.  The teacher instructs you to put away your phones and asks everyone to turn to their partner to discuss the answers that the class shared.  She asks you to write down any that you disagree with and why.  After 3 minutes, the teacher asks for volunteers to share their thoughts and for the class to discuss their findings. She then introduces a short you tube video showing triangles and trapezoid in nature. Homework she says is to log onto the classroom blog and post a comment about today’s lesson, including at least one thing you learned.

Did you learn during this class?  Were you ENGAGED in your learning? Did you remember the information you learned?  What did you learn? What, in addition to the right-there curriculum, did you learn? Hmmmm…communication? technology? teamwork? collaboration? problem solving? and of course geometry.

You were involved in ACTIVE LEARNING.  Not just learning. And, in all likelihood, you probably ENJOYED learning!

Active Learning is learning “that involves students in doing things and thinking about the things they are doing”. (*Bonwell, C., & Eison, J. (1991). Active learning: Creating excitement in the classroom (ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report No. 1). Washington, DC: George Washington University, p. 2)

Learning is not a spectator sport. Students do not learn much just sitting in classes listening to teachers, memorizing prepackaged assignments, and spitting out answers. They must talk about what they are learning, write reflectively about it, relate it to past experiences, and apply it to their daily lives. They must make what they learn part of themselves.” (Chickering & Gamson, 1987)

What is Universal Design for Learning (UDL)?

Let’s talk about Universal Design for Learning. The course I am taking right now is all about this UDL concept. I had previously thought about it in two forms – Universal Access (Thinking ADA regulations for accessibility), and another term for Differentiated Learning of sorts. I am quickly learning that UDL is SOOOOO very much more! And so much more science based.

In the context of Education, it falls under IDEA regulations…

“…an approach to teaching, learning, curriculum development and assessment that uses new technologies to respond to a variety of individual learner differences.” (IDEA)

This definition is so much broader and more encompassing than what I had initially believed it to be.

What I’ve discovered is that while UDL certainly includes the accessibility component, it also applies to the specifics of the learning methodology…acquiring information, using the information, applying the information, demonstrating knowledge, engaging in the learning.

And more importantly for those educators who believe it is just more differentiated instruction, a term that I think has been overused and sort of lost meaning for many, its foundation is in brain research.

Someone recently said “well why didn’t we know this before? This can’t be new.” And what I have discovered is with new technology comes new research and new knowledge.  Studies of the brain have revealed that we use different parts of our brain to both gain various types of information and to use this information and retrieve this information and interact with this information and apply this information to new contexts.  Our brain is so much more complex and learning is so different than what we once thought. Educators today, if they seek to educate their students, must understand this new concept of learning and understand the importance of implementing methods to UDL into their curriculum, their classrooms, their environment for all the stages of learning.

More on UDL: http://www.cast.org/udl/

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