We know it’s true. We cannot, should not, and need not simply limit ourselves to the use of assessment to measure learning – sometimes known as assessment of learning. Assessment can be for learning (to inform future teaching and learning) and assessment can even be an integral part of teacher and student learning (assessment as learning).
In missing this opportunity, we miss a chance to motivate, engage, and involve students in their learning journey and to start with the end in mind. Rick Stiggins, wise assessment sage, said it best: “Students can hit any target they can see and that holds still for them.” It’s un-common sense that needs to be common.
There are three primary ways that we can make this happen:
1. Learning Target Trackers
We share learning targets – the essential outcomes of unit – with students prior to the beginning of a new period of learning. These 5-7 targets are presented in various ways, but the purposes and uses are the same. Students know what they’ll be learning before the unit begins. They self-assess their confidence of mastery, on a learning target tracker, along the way in relation to each specific target and also note their progress based on the evidence and feedback they produce and receive from teachers. When misunderstandings occur, they reflect upon why they occurred. They seek, and teachers provide, specific reteaching support specific to the target in which extra assistance is needed. Students and teachers know the target for which a little more time and an alternative way of learning must be provided. And, not insignificantly, progress is noted on the learning target tracker as learning improves. The student sees the progress; it’s growth mindset in action.
2. Backwards Planning
Why is teaching to the test forbidden? It’s not just students who can hit any target they can see and that holds still long enough for them. The same applies for teachers. The rigor and format of instruction must match the expectations that are represented on the unit assessments. This can only be assured if teachers know this target. Let’s trust teachers. They will not “cheat” by explicitly preparing students for the specific items on a test (assuming we do not attach over-bearing, evaluative-related high-stakes to these assessments). But, teachers (and students?) must know the destination…the success criteria. It’s common sense.
3. Buffer Time
If it’s predictable, it’s preventable. Can we not predict that some students will not yet have learned the essentials toward the conclusion of a unit of study? Can we not predict the consequences of moving on to the next unit without responding to this reality? So, follow Benjamin Bloom’s advice of 50 years ago. Build in Buffer Time within or between units to provide intervention or enrichment, based on evidence of learning gathered throughout a unit. This is Tier 2 of RTI/MTSS. And, it’s just common sense.
Teaching and learning is complex. But we are making things too complicated. Let’s apply common sense, like these ideas above, to our practice and collectively help improve outcomes and successes for students.