Chapter 1: Making Classroom Assessment Work

Questions:

1. Begin by thinking about what you have read so far. Has is confirmed some things for you? Did you realize you were already doing some of this? Did it remind you of anything you had forgotten?

2. Record something you would like to learn more about. Talk with someone else about your thinking.

Chapter 1 begins the book by asserting that “an important first step for making classroom assessment work is to understand the difference between assessment and evaluation” (p. 1). Davies makes a clear distinction between assessment and evaluation, two terms that often come up in the Faculty of Education. To assess students means to collect information about their learning, in turn, this data will shape how teachers construct  lessons, units and courses, set up their classrooms, and even influence the strategies they use to teach. Evaluation is formal; evaluating student work is recognizing whether or not students have gained knowledge or insight of the topics and to what extent the material has been learned. Davies also explains the assessment process, using self-assessments, and the difference between descriptive and evaluative feedback in an informative and concise manner.

This chapter was an especially good introduction to assessment for me, because while I have heard both of the terms “assessment” and “evaluation,” I did not know the difference, and the two words came to have the same meaning for me. Davies was able to explain the purpose of both terms and how they can be beneficial to student learning when used properly. Now I know that assessment for learning gathers data about the student’s knowledge in order to make the necessary changes to improve student learning. In addition, while I knew that giving descriptive feedback was important to foster the student’s learning by being able to make changes in their work, I had not made the connection that both the teacher and student make suggestions and changes in this stage of the process. Something I recently learned in a previous class was that evaluative feedback (grades, checkmarks, etc.) are assessments of learning. I was happy to realize that I had been practising giving descriptive and evaluative feedback in my ECS 100 and ECS 300 field placements. In my first placement with a Grade 2 class, I practised marking the student’s homework in their printing booklets and math sheets by giving evaluative feedback. At this time, I only gave checkmarks, smiley faces, or wrote encouraging phrases, such as “Way to go!” “Nice job!” and “Almost there.” However, during my second placement with a Grade 8 class, I assigned a poetry assignment for Remembrance Day. After the process of drafting, editing, presenting and submission, I gave feedback on their performance and written skills, as well as a grade that I determined from a rubric I created and showed the class. The feedback in this class was more detailed. I complimented various students on their usage of metaphors, rhyme, rhythm and other literature devices. When a student wrote something that was personal and relevant to their lives, I commended them on their connections. There were also comments about how students had used appropriate volume and pace while delivering their poems. I put a lot of effort into making sure I said something constructive as well as something that was done well to encourage these students. Even the act of providing the class with a rubric and explaining my expectations for them helped these students improve from their draft to their final copy and presentation. However, as a pre-service teacher there are many things that I have not yet tried or have forgotten, such as self-assessment. That poetry project would have been a perfect situation to have the students assess their own work and communicate to me where they needed more understanding before the project was completed. I think in the future, especially during my pre-internship, I will try to use self-assessment tools with the students to provide me with a clear indication of whether the students are understanding the expectations and feel that they can complete the assignment successfully, or show me that I need to provide them with more instruction.

Davies rightfully assumes in this first chapter that her readers will need a basic foundation for the terminology and processes that she presents throughout the book. She argues that “explicit criteria and samples of student work help increase the possibility that when students interact with an audience — peers, parents, teachers and others — and receive feedback, the next steps in their learning will be more informed” (9). This statement means that if students can clearly comprehend what is expected of them, have exemplars to compare the areas that they may be struggling with, and are provided with feedback to guide their learning, students will be able to improve in their skills. To apply this idea in my own teaching, I would want to have an understandable assignment and rubric (meaning not confusing and no words that would be misinterpreted), show students examples of the assignment at various grade levels and explain why that mark was given, and then provide more feedback at the end of the assignment, instead of focussing on the grade. Encouraging students to be more concerned on the descriptive and constructive feedback rather than the actual grade will be challenging, especially considering how much I like to know my grade, but I believe that will more experience I will be able to show the importance of the comments, not the grade.

My questions to you: how do you provide descriptive and evaluative feedback to your students? Are there times when one is more necessary than the other, and if so when?

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