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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.

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Comment by Justin Scoggin on April 6, 2010 at 10:31am
Curtis - I am glad that you enjoyed my last post here. I have been thinking a lot about this lately as I see you have, and it seems that this concept comes across to my teachers in training quite naturally. However, when they plan for this to happen, the major impediment is designing the performance task that is the final game. There are lots of clues in Understanding by Design about this that have helped my student-teachers do this: it needs to be multi-stage, it needs to be authentic - which means that it should be realistically contextualized and it should be "messy" like the real world is - , it needs to be presented as a problem that students solve using creativity and higher thinking skills. Once we explore these characteristics of culminating performance tasks, another factor that causes lots of consternation is time. Teacher say that having students practice something and giving them formative feedback on it takes time, time that they don't have. I then usually ask them what they have time for if not for practicing what they are teaching, which as you can imagine garners responses about coverage, about discrete skills and knowledge and pressure from administrators to "finish" the book.

Its tough. However, it seems that my role with this knowledge is to model, to practice what I am teaching so that teachers in training can see that effort in that direction really is fruitful.
Comment by Scott Habeeb on April 2, 2010 at 11:04pm
Nice post and said more concisely than I could have!

It's funny how well sports/coaching compares to AFL - not a perfect analogy, but a good one. Here are some links to some of the other posts/resources on this site that compare AFL to sports:

1. A Sports Analogy for Assessment
2. Assessment FOR Learning on the Football Field
3. How AFL could be applied to a PE class (based on principles that ap...
4. Why is Allen Iverson on Assessment FOR Learning?
5. I want to be the starting tailback... (video)

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