Monday, September 23, 2013

Clear Off Your Desks | September 20, 2013

Sean McCarroll


It's the often-heard phrase that makes students cringe with anxiety as they await the dreaded "pop quiz". The feeling of impending doom becomes overwhelming as the teacher hands out a quiz that looks like it was written in a foreign language. The teacher says "you may begin." Then this happens:

Standardized testing is great for recall, but what about critical thinking and application?
Although more traditional assessments like pop quizzes or multiple choice tests can force students to dig deeper in their brains to identify a correct answer, they still fail to get students to do what we as educators want them to: use the information they learn and apply their knowledge to new situations and contexts.

Gone is the day where students must memorize a slue of information and regurgitate it in their future careers, so why do we still expect them to do it in school? With the existence of informational technologies, students can find whatever information they need with a quick search on their device. If we still want school to be relevant to students, what has to change?

The answer could easily start with assessment. To make school relevant to our students, we need to give them the opportunity to replicate what they can expect to encounter in the "real world." Successfully assessing student learning should come in the form of authentic assessments that provide students with the opportunity to create something more worthwhile than a Scantron with a fancy design made by filling in a bubble representing A-E. In fact, assessment should not only allow students to demonstrate their knowledge by creating something authentic, but it should also serve as a guide for instruction, or as assessment for learning in addition to assessment of learning.
Authentic assessment can promote peer collaboration and innovation as students seek to create something authentic with what they've learned.
The popular work of Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins, Understanding by Design (2012) describes how "understanding is revealed when students autonomously make sense of and transfer their learning through authentic performance." When it comes to how we assess students, we should ask ourselves what exactly it is that we want them to do and then plan our instruction based on those goals. The UbD Framework presents assessment more as a meansof learning than an end. By identifying the ultimate objective of a lesson, unit, or course, we can more effectively plan our instruction so that what the students learn supports them in an authentic assessment where they apply their knowledge.

In that sense, assessment doesn't have to be something that students do when they're done learning; rather, the dynamic nature of an authentic assessment means that students can develop the assignment as part of the learning process rather than at the end. Such an approach to teaching and assessment simulates more "real world" tasks that our students will be expected to complete in their future, which makes authentic assessments an ideal approach in schools. For, after all, if schools don't adapt to the changing needs of the post-secondary environment, school itself could easily become meaningless to our younger generation.

Time's up, put your pencils down.