More Than a Grade: Assessment as a Teaching Tool

by Brian J Martin

Tests, quizzes, and gradebooks: these tools demonstrate to you what your students know. But how can they help your students? Brian encourages teachers to view assessments as more than a chance to capture the student’s grade. In this video, he provides a brief description of three types of assessment, and offers techniques and strategies to harness the potential for formative assessment: assessment that empowers your students to learn.

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Let’s say you do a math paper and it comes back and you have a sixty percent at the top and that’s the only thing. Well, as a student, that is one hundred percent useless other than maybe it would motivate you to try harder next time.

Essentially there’s three or four basic types of assessment. The first one is formative assessment. That one is what teachers use to figure out where students are at and then they need to give descriptive feedback to the students and say, “How can I improve from here?”

The other one—we often think of as summative. We teach a bunch of stuff and we take a test and then the summative assessment is, “Do my students understand and know how to do this material?”

Then there’s also diagnostic assessment where we’re evaluating a student as to what their proficiency level is in some subject area.

Information by itself cannot be dubbed summative or formative. It’s what the teacher does with that information. “Formative assessment therefore is essentially feedback both to the teacher and to the pupil about present understanding and skill development in order to determine a way forward.” And that’s the important part about formative assessment. It doesn’t do any good to put a bunch of red x’s beside problems that students get wrong, hand it back, and teach the next day’s lesson.

We are going to take this quiz which is intended to be summative assessment. So I’m gonna assess how well you know this material and people do really badly on it. Well, you are allowed to throw that out and use it as formative assessment instead of putting these bad grades in—why would you? Obviously the students haven’t mastered the material. I would personally turn that into formative assessment. I would give the students feedback or have them give each other feedback on “How can I improve this?” and “What can I do differently?” and then we would retake the quiz if I wanted to get some summative assessment in there.

I got a lot of my ideas from this book: Seven Strategies of Assessment for Learning—excellent book.

The first step is provide a clear understandable vision of the learning target. You should begin your class by stating what is the goal of the class. At the beginning of every chapter I just read down over the objectives for that lesson, for that chapter. Here are the things we’re going to learn how to do in this chapter and then periodically, every other, every three lessons or so, I come back and look at the list. Okay, “Do we know how to do this?”, “Do we know how to do this?”, “How do we feel about this?” Sometimes I just get the students to rate one-ten. Just call them out. Thumbs up, thumbs in middle, thumbs down depending on how you feel about each one of these. It gives me a little bit an idea. Of course we’re doing class works and that kind of thing as well which allows me to formally assess whether or not the students know that.

The second strategy is to use examples of strong and weak work. Normally I would use anonymous work. That way they don’t know who did it. Usually work from other classes as well. Those two strategies sort of give the student an idea of, “Where am I going?”

The next is offering regular descriptive feedback during the learning process. Grades aren’t a good way to assess or to give students feedback. It takes more time on the teacher’s part, but you have to give the students an idea of what they did incorrectly or they’re not going to know how to fix it up.

You could be really specific about it in pinpointing problems. If you have long problems that you need to do, sit down and let the student ask, “What have I done well and what haven’t I done so well?”

“Okay, so I usually can do these problems until I get to this point and after that I don’t know what to do.”

“Okay, well, let’s work on that. We know how to do this…” And then instead of giving the student homework problems that they already know how to do, give them homework problems where they’re already down to that point.

In my math classes, not all the time, but I get them to sit down at the end of a chapter before we do the review, and I give them a list of all the learning objectives, and I say, “Okay, write down in this box how well you think you know this on a scale from one to ten.” Sometimes I’ll do in the middle of a chapter, too. “Okay, here’s what we know—here’s what we have to do. Write down some goals for this chapter. Or what do you want your average to be or what are you shooting for on this test.” Then you have to keep the students accountable. “This is what you were shooting for—this is how close you are. I think if you work this hard, you’ll be able to get that achievement.”

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CONTRIBUTOR: Brian J Martin

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