In the history of education, assessment has always played a vital role in determining student achievement. While the advantages of gauging achievement are strongly pronounced, there are still plenty of negative consequences of assessment which dictate student performance, most notably long after it had taken place.
I am not writing this as an attack on current educational policies and standards-based curriculum. Rather, this is a discussion pertaining to how educators can use assessment to encourage, not discourage, student learning.
No matter the form of assessment, students are heavily affected by their performance. Poor results can produce a sense of hopelessness and negative self-fulfilling prophecies, while student success brings forth confidence and motivation.
The mission of educators in general is to facilitate student learning and academic growth within the classroom and beyond. This mission is challenged by discouragement derived from poor student performance on assessments. And this is why “Assessment for Learning” is so important and can be used as an invaluable resource.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
Assessment for Learning (AFL) is a collaborative effort between teachers and students in the learning process. It begins when teachers share achievement targets with students, illustrating what is expected from them in a way students will understand and supplemented with examples of exemplary student work.
In this process, the students work undergoes a multitude of self-assessments as well as teachers providing descriptive feedback. The key here is not to bombard students with an overload of self-assessments and criticism. Too much of anything is never a good thing, and too much feedback can easily overwhelm them.
The point in doing all this is to give students the ability to chart their development towards achievement targets which the teachers have established. With examples of strong performances on future hypothetical assessments (or examples similar), students can strive to understand what success looks like. Combining the encouragement provided from understanding achievement goals and the understanding of sampled student achievement, student motivation will rise and student accountability begins to be established.
Student failure can be contagious, and so can student achievement. Providing models of success to students gives them an understanding of what is expected of them. Complemented with feedback from assessments and their own evaluation, students will have a clear track towards how to perform better the next time.
In essence, AFL provides students (as well as teachers) with relatable information which can be used immediately in an effort to improve student performance. As students acquire the experiences and understanding for improvement over time, they will begin to grasp that success can be easily attainable.
Of course the main objective is to increase student performance and self-esteem. It is not to eliminate failure, but instead to stop the spread of repeated failure and demoralization. Students will not always perform at their peak potential. It is the teacher’s duty to have the students question why they did not do so well and for them to understand how to be successful once more. Restoring confidence and building these critical thinking skills outline the essential points of AFL.
Within the context of self-assessment and descriptive feedback is the process of metacognition. This is readily seen through their pursuit of understanding where things went wrong. Having the students understand the information is one thing (and should be a primary objective for increased motivation and achievement) but having them question their own thinking is a totally different field of thought.
The development of metacognitive thought is a very important thinking skill and developing this frame of mind will only increase student understanding of the entire educational process and beyond. Regarding AFL, a benchmark goal would be for student proficiency to rise allowing them create their own feedback and set their own goals for the future instead of the teacher.
The samples which the teacher displays for the students should vary in quality of performance. There are plenty of advantages in allowing students to see stellar work and strive to produce similar results but there is also a wealth of knowledge and understanding which can be attained through critiquing and scrutinizing poor performances. Students can produce their own feedback on manufactured assignments or even create their own rubric.
The class can make their own practice tests for an upcoming assessment to find out their strengths and weaknesses. When teachers believe that their class has a firm understanding of AFL, students can begin to narrowly critique each other’s work and provide descriptive feedback.
Assessment for Learning is a great tool to increase motivation and strengthen student achievement. Feedback, self-assessment, and models give students an understanding of expectations and what they need to do in order to achieve positive results.
Teachers and students should maintain an open dialogue concerning achievement targets with the teacher producing frequent (but not overwhelming) descriptive feedback on student work. Increased communication and understanding between the two can develop even more learning successes as well as more amiable parent-teacher conferences.
Educators must understand the impact of assessment on the student’s mind. Winning can beget more winning, while losing can beget more losing. Success may not occur every time, but teachers must find a way to end the losing streaks.