Why do some students perform better in school than others? This is an ongoing question which everyone involved in the educational value- chain; teachers, parents and students, constantly seek answers to. The answer may lie in the effective use of Assessment for Learning.
What is Assessment for Learning?
This is the process of collecting and analyzing data for use by the faculty and the students to determine the progress in learning and develop the best courses of action to sustain or improve performance.
An assessment is important simply because there is no singular effective method of instruction. A classroom is a collective of individuals each with varying degrees of competencies and abilities. Even if you contract a teacher with the highest credentials and certification, there is no guarantee that her approach would benefit every single one of the students in the classroom.
A student’s ability to comprehend or process information can be a consequence of a variety of factors. Genetic pre- disposition is one factor. Some students have the genetic qualities that give them an intellectual advantage over others. Socio- economic factors also have to be considered. Emotional distress can adversely affect student performance.
Assessment for Learning which is alternatively referred to as formative assessment is not an evaluative approach. The process of collecting information on the student’s current level of progress and developing an understanding of his learning capacity will be used by both the student and teacher to help achieve learning goals.
There are five widely recognized strategies used for Assessment for Learning:
1. The strategic use of questioning
The objective of strategic questioning is to give the teacher a vantage point to find out the gaps in the student’s ability to process information, address and clarify potential misunderstandings in instruction.
Teachers who use strategic questioning believe it encourages students to become:
- Better listeners
- Active participants in discussions
- More dynamic in articulating thoughts and ideas
- More team- oriented by learning to work with other students
Strategic questioning in a way creates a greater sense of community within the classroom. It establishes conditions for students to become pro- active in class compared to the traditional approach where students fear being called to recite or answer questions.
A popular technique used for strategic questioning is when the teacher starts out with a basic question on the subject matter which is phrased in such a way that it merits an opinion.
Anyone who raises an opinion or answer is given ample time to validate his or her point. The teacher will not aim to disprove the opinion. Instead he will navigate the engagement in such a way that he will have a good perspective of how the student understands the subject matter or topic.
2. Effective teacher feedback
Once the data has been gathered and analyzed, teachers refer to a set of established success guidelines and inform each student of their current performance levels and the areas they need to improve.
There is some confusion on the meaning of feedback. Most people take it to mean as giving advice. But more accurately feedback is a rendering of an observation.
For example if a student is generally weak in class participation and recitation and after a series of strategic questions and observation, the teacher notices visible passive behavior.
The teacher may share the following observation to the student, “I see you hesitate to raise your hand after a question; it’s like you are waiting for another classmate to validate your answer. It seems that you know the answer but your passiveness has cost you points in recitation.”
The feedback is intended to create a loop. Now the student will either validate or challenge the observation. Whether it is an acknowledgment or denial, both teacher and student will engage on the matter of the student’s performance in recitation.
3. Peer Feedback
In this strategy, students offer each other advice about their performance. The basis for the feedback is a success criteria which has the following reference points:
- A review of which areas in the learning process has been performed well in accordance to the success criteria.
- An overview of which areas need to be improved upon to meet the guidelines of the success criteria.
- A discussion on the possible courses of action to be undertaken in order to meet the guidelines of the success criteria.
Peer feedback is considered an effective strategy for Assessment for Learning because students generally feel more comfortable with each other. They are able to articulate thoughts, ideas and opinions easier with fellow students than with teachers or members of the faculty.
Teachers oversee peer feedback sessions and make sure all comments and opinions are constructive in nature and not destructive. There should be no “put downs” with the primary objective being to help the other student improve.
Thus, peer feedback is not just designed to teach students to receive feedback but to give feedback as well.
4. Student self- assessment
This strategy requires students to be accountable for their assessment. It is a basically a process of self- evaluation. The student will undergo self- regulation or self- monitoring.
The student has the following objectives when undergoing self- assessment:
- Develop an understanding of the learning intent and success criteria
- Application of these criteria to assess what they have learned and the improvements that need to be made.
- Review the method of learning and assess how this has helped them learn better.
- Review and implement feedback received from students and teachers.
- Establish learning objectives and prepare a summary of what they still need to do.
- Oversee their approach toward learning.
The notable feature of student self- assessment is the teacher continues to play a valuable role. The teacher will share the success criteria with the students and work to ensure they fully understand it. The students will be taught how to apply the criteria to their work. The teacher will also provide students with feedback and guide them in setting learning objectives.
For students, the strategy of self- assessment gives them a greater sense of responsibility toward learning. This increases their levels of motivation and enthusiasm.
An example of a self- assessment strategy is “student- led and three- way conferences”.
In this activity a student is asked to lead or conduct a conference that includes their parents and teachers. The presentation is a summary of their journey toward learning and includes a discussion of a portfolio. The portfolio will highlight some of the work they have done over a period of time. Think of this as an activity similar to a sales presentation or project pitch to a client.
The conference will articulate the student’s understanding of his current capacity for learning; what he has done so far and what he expects to accomplish or attain in the future.
5. The formative use of summative assessment
This involves an evaluation of the achievements or accomplishments of the student as the bases for determining a grade or certification.
Using formative use of summative assessment means using information from summative assessment to find ways to improve student’s performance.
For the teacher formative use of assessment entails the following:
- Provide a range of assessment tasks and opportunities to make sure all learning styles are covered.
- Use knowledge derived from the student’s abilities to learn as a basis for preparing better for the summative assessment.
- Use the results of summative assessment to drive the focus toward effective learning.
For the student, formative use of assessment has the following implications:
- Identify his current level of progress in the learning process, the areas that need improvement and the skills necessary to prepare for the summative assessment.
- Recognize that his experiences in summative assessment present great opportunities to improve his capacity to learn and achieve set goals and objectives.
The field of education has grown to take a more pro- active approach in improving the performance of the students. It has become holistic in the sense that grades and scores alone are no longer definitive of a student’s ability to comprehend a subject matter.
The educational system has taken into consideration other factors that may have direct consequences on the learning progress of the student. Thus, it has created new avenues to pinpoint the problems and collaborate with the value chain; teachers, students and parents in order to help students improve and achieve more.