Monday, September 23, 2013

Assessment in the Blended Environment | September 20, 2013

Jessica Anderson

On Thursday, I sat with three students working on a quiz each had taken twice and still not passed with a 4 or above. While working with these students, there were groups working on their group project, a handful of students working on a feedback loop illustration, and a few working on an earth system science analysis assignment. The room was noisy, but controlled, and there was collaboration amongst table groups going on. I had a couple students stop up at the table to ask a few minor questions about assignments, but most were getting further instruction from their classmates. The three sitting with me were discussing which spheres things like earthquakes and volcanoes occurred in and trying to come up with a meaningful answer to why they think it's important to learn about the four spheres. I sat there scanning my room, asking the 3 students probing questions, and thinking to myself this is exactly how it should be.

You see, I'm currently in my 1st year of a blended-gamified course for my earth science students. And right now it is screaming everything positive about assessment that I have been longing for. I've always been good at informally assessing students through observations, probing questions, and inquiry activities as I wander through the classroom, but honestly this. is. different.

Every single day I talk to every single student about their learning. This feature is definitely one of the most valuable features of assessments that I've yet to embed. We discuss grades, what pieces of learning they find struggling, and instantly recognize students who are struggling with the learning activity they are currently working on. The key word here is instantly. I can tell just from talking with one student for 10 seconds what he/she does not understand and use probing questions, redirection, etc. to guide him/her along the right path.

As for formal assessments, I'm finding that this type of classroom is geared more towards authentic types of assessments. My students now have choice in how they demonstrate understanding, and choice in how they perform complex tasks in order to support meaningful application of their learning.  I'm no longer checking multiple choice answers or just reading short answer questions. I'm watching my students do their assessments and evaluating what I observe. If that's not valuable assessment then at this moment I don't know what is.

This week I was asked "What are the features of assessment that make it a valuable practice?" Even though I discussed above certain assessment features I find valuable within this new classroom environment, the one thing I think is most valuable does not stem from features. I think the most valuable practice when using assessment is actually doing something with the information that you've set yourself up to receive. The question we should really be asking ourselves is:
How am I using assessment to help students build a strong learning foundation that will allow them to meaningfully demonstrate their understanding?