The End of the Journey… (For Now)

Well, the semester has flown by faster than I thought. It’s already time to wrap up final projects and have exams, and so for the time being my learning journey about assessment and evaluation must come to a stop, although it won’t be the end. With Internship just around the corner and a career ahead of me, the journey has only begun.

Before classes started I honestly thought to myself that this would be an easy class. A class that didn’t actually teach me anything I didn’t already know. Maybe even a class that was a waste of my time, money and energy. Boy, was I ever wrong! The minute class started we were bombarded with new terminology: diagnostic assessment, summative assessment or evaluation, evaluative feedback, and the list went on. The list wouldn’t end with that first class; it would build over the semester as we learned more and more about this mystery and art called “Assessment and Evaluation.” I realized right off the bat that everything I knew, or thought I knew, about assessment and evaluation came from my own experiences. Experiences from high school with teachers who were dead set in their “old” ways, or from university classes, where the rules in a school setting no longer applied. I was so confident that I had learned from my teachers the right way to give grades, and I already knew how to “rule” my classroom. Everything had to be marked; if it wasn’t going to be graded, why bother completing it? Late for class? Sit in the hall. A student who plagiarizes receives a zero. Miss a test? Your report card will reflect that, but you won’t know why your average has dropped significantly. Re-dos would be granted, but only if the student asked. Students who want an extension must ask well in advance, and have a proper reason for that matter. No excuses. Late marks for every student who didn’t put the effort in to hand assignments in on time. Now I know better. Who even came up with the idea that students with late assignments don’t put effort into their work? Life happens and there are so many outside considerations teachers need to take into account for these students who are struggling with due dates. That first class set me up to change my belief system entirely. I have learned so much more about assessment and evaluation, and I have even got to try my own hand at it during my pre-internship.

During my pre-internship, I graded the two matching sections, and quotation sections of the Macbeth exam. This was my first real grading opportunity of the block. The cooperating teacher went through the exam with my partner and I, and gave us the answer key. The answer key had a firm right or wrong answer for the two matching sections, but the quotation section could vary slightly from his answer. Basically each question was out of two marks, and one mark would be for correctly identifying the speaker, half a mark for identifying any literary device, and half for a correct explanation of the quotation. After going through a few on my own, I started to get into a groove. I felt so sophisticated telling my peers that I spent the afternoon marking Macbeth exams. In my opinion, the test was made fairly, but much to my dismay several students received low marks because they did not follow the instructions, or for some, even attempt the questions. I remember writing my own high school Macbeth exam that used a similar quotations section, and I did well because I paid attention and studied. The cooperating teacher explained that the students that did poorly were ones who did not come to class very often, and when they did they refused to participate and be engaged in the topics. This was not my only marking, but further explanations can be found under my “Pre-Internship” sections.

One of the greatest resources I have found, and will keep for reference throughout my career, is the Anne Davies textbook “Making Classroom Assessment Work,” which is used for the “Reading Responses” section. It has amazing insights into strategies and activities that can make assessment more efficient for teachers, and evaluation more meaningful to the students. From the “letters home” suggestions to the forms to build a learner’s profile to the different varieties of portfolios that teachers can select, Davies fills this text with relevant information that teachers can actually use. Throughout the book she highlights the importance of involving students in the assessment and evaluation that takes place to create ownership, responsibility and learn how to self- and peer-monitor. She suggests to use self- and peer-assessments within the classroom to reduce the amount of marking the teacher will have, and provide an opinion from another student with a fresh perspective. The teacher should not be the only person responsible for providing feedback to the students. Otherwise, there will be no improvement to the student’s achievement. It is nearly impossible to provide adequate feedback to every student in the class for each and every assignment. Giving such detailed feedback for every thing a student must complete in your class not only takes a lot of effort, but it takes a lot of time. When assessment is not given in a timely manner, it becomes less effective. My personal goal is to always complete my assessments as soon as possible, so that my students will not completely forget the topic when they receive it back. This will definitely be hard because I am an English major and Social Studies minor. These classes require a lot of writing, but I am confident that using self- and peer-assessments can help to reduce my work during the process so that I can still have time to give adequate feedback to all of my students, whether it is oral or written feedback.

After being flooded with information at the start of the year about what assessment and evaluation actually mean and how to carry it out, I now feel confident in being able to provide timely feedback on assessment, use a variety of sources (triangulation), and involve my students in the process. Now because of what I have learned, my experiences from my schooling will not be the same as my students’ experiences. I don’t have to assign a grade to everything; in fact, it’s actually more beneficial to the students if I don’t. They need more feedback than grades in order to improve and grow. Late students will quietly enter my classroom at a moment that is not disruptive, instead of sitting in the hall or wherever outside of the classroom. It is better to have a 5 second interruption than risk having a student fall behind. It isn’t just about missing instructions, although that is important, but a student who is not allowed in the classroom doesn’t even have a chance to learn from the class. What kind of motivation is that? I confess I’m still not sure how to address plagiarism or extensions, but I’m sure that will come with time. Missing a test or assignment before report cards can bring down a student’s grade without them even understanding why. So to combat this, I have a goal to write letters home to my students and their parents explaining what their child has missed and that completion will bring their grade up, or take off those sections entirely. Either way a note sent home to inform the parents is something I now strongly believe in. In addition, I think it is my responsibility as a teacher to let students know when they have a chance to re-do an assignment and improve their grade. Why should we keep that a big secret, that only special club members know to ask for? The most important thing I’ve learned and will keep with me is don’t take off marks for being late. It is not a true representation of the student’s knowledge when points are taken off for behavioural issues, although those issues are important to discuss with the student. I have so much more to learn, but I feel that I have a solid foundation to continue from. I cannot wait for Internship, (of course, after I have the summer break to develop my units and lessons!) and the learning that is sure to come.

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