How are assessments used?

The word assessment has become a bad word in education, especially among students. When they hear the word they automatically think of everything negative about the word. Test. Quizzes. Bad grades. Anxiety. Low self confidence. Feeling of being dumb. Comparison. Hours of studying. All of these things make the idea of learning miserable for students in our classrooms. What is even worse for students is being assessed in a class that they cannot stand or find no value in. There is no question that History is a subject that students either love or hate in high school. Some view it as a waste of time because they are basically being asked to spit out a long list of facts and dates rather than seeing the deeper, complex nature of history.

Assessment should be a tool of measurement that both the teacher and student benefit from. The idea of assessment being either for or of learning is an integral part of the process of learning. During any sporting event, if a team is losing they assess what is going wrong and they use that information to alter their approach to the game. Most teams, hopefully do not wait to lose the game to see where they could have done something differently to win. Learning and assessment is very similar. Assessment that is for learning is a way to evaluate what can be changed quickly to ensure the greatest opportunity for success. When we do assessment of learning we look at how well the strategy worked and how well the systems played together.

It is important to remember that although assessment is a necessary thing, that we work on making it as enjoyable, and beneficial as possible. Formative assessments do not have to be just quizzes or test, but can be call and response. An inquiry lesson is a great avenue for this. Creating an outlet for students to reveal what they know through analyzing historical pieces is a great way to assess what your students do and do not understand. History should be intriguing for students and with that comes engaging assessment. In the article on Teaching History the author wrote, “be sure to ask a question that elicits historical debates, not moral judgments”. Finding ways to assess our students by allowing them to engage, interact, and invest in the material they are learning is only going to bring a more positive perspective on assessment.

Are We Planning The RIGHT Way?

Have you ever had a moment in your life where you thought you were doing something the right way and then someone comes along and tells you to do it completely backwards? Well that is what is happening to teachers when it comes to lesson planning. The framework that is UbD (The Understanding by Design) has teachers looking at long term goals first rather than short term. This process begins by teachers identifying what they want their students to ultimately learn and walk away with at the end. Once they have determined those goals they are to figure out how they plan on assessing each of these targets. Lastly they will begin to create their lessons and cool activities for their students. For so long I have assumed that starting with lesson planning would be the best way to approach teaching but the UbD states otherwise and it makes a lot of sense.

One reason that I feel that UbD could be useful is because of the way the public school system is going right now. In the article Classroom Assessment for Student Learning written by Richard Stiggins, he brings up the point of building on the prior knowledge of our students. There is a lot of responsibility placed on teachers that they will have taught their students everything that they need to know before they are passed on to the next grade. Even with that responsibility there are still situations where that is not occurring or not to the full extent. As time has gone on social studies is being taught less and less in elementary schools. Teachers are beginning to focus their attention more on math and English as opposed to social studies which delays their knowledge as they move to higher grades. By the time that these students are reaching the ninth grade, they have only really been exposed to four years of actual history in their whole school career. With that being said, by the time that they reach high school history there is no telling what these students do and do not know. It creates a broad spectrum for teachers to try and focus their material on for the whole semester.

With the use of UbD, teachers can use assessments in the beginning of their semester to find out where these students actually are in their understanding of history. Once the teacher has this knowledge, he/she can begin to see where his/her students need to be at the end of the instructional time frame. Rather than starting from a point with a wide range, there can be a focus that is built out with assessments and lessons. This framework is essential to helping teachers take students who are all have different levels of knowledge, and allows them to maximize their time in order to cover what all needs to be covered in that semester. There is no telling what the teacher prior taught that students so if you can get a grasp on what they did learn, than the UbD will help organize and guide the instruction.