Sharing assessment & grading strategies that help students learn
I was speaking with a colleague the other day about the fact that some in our organization are still having a difficult time understanding and recognizing assessment for learning practices. Some continue to see assessment for learning as an elusive strategy or project that they have not yet figured out. In reality assessment for learning is nothing more than figuring out ways to regularly check the status of student learning and provide specific descriptive feedback and instruction that will lead to further learning and/or deeper understanding.
A recent post to this site borrowed a sports analogy from A Repair Kit for Grading, 15 Fixes for Broken Grades, by Ken O’Connor. I think expanding on this idea might bring some clarity to assessment for learning. The post explained that coaches design practice in order to prepare their team for the big game, the test. Throughout the week, coaches are continually monitoring practice, stopping the action regularly to provide specific feedback regarding the performance of the athletes compared to a clearly defined standard. At the highest level of sports, practices are even recorded and reviewed by both the coaches and the athletes so that both might see the errors and understand what needs to be done to correct them. Each practice is designed to meet the needs of the team and is based on observation and formative evaluation of the previous practice. The practices themselves are not graded; their sole purpose is to provide opportunities to prepare for the game.
The best teachers are coaches in the classroom, constantly monitoring the progression of learning and providing feedback that will lead each student further toward mastery of the standard. Formative assessment is the practice of formally and informally collecting information that informs both the teacher and the student about their progress. This information is used to provide feedback and to design lessons to ensure that every student is ready for the big game. One major difference from a more traditional approach is that practice opportunities are used more for providing feedback and less for determining grades.