Subjective and Objective Student Assessment- A Thought Experiment on Student Learning

What assessment is fair to every student?

Imagine for a moment – you are a student, learning in a subject that you find to be difficult. Consider a time that you struggled to grasp the content; but, you ‘failed’ the mid-term exam. Can you remember a time in your life or the experience of your students that the ‘failure’ to learn at the mid-term actually motivated a positive growth in learning. What would be in the best interests of the student?

  • How would positive based assessment impact a student?
    • Why mark down incorrect understanding?
    • Why not reward correct knowledge?
    • Assessment at any time?
  • What would be the impact of students choosing their mode of assessment?
    • Unless the mode of assessment (a writing task in an English class for example) is germane to the assessment, why should the mode matter?
    • Can students show their understanding in multiple ways?
  • Could a student be assessed fairly at any time?
    • What if the student completes the learning task late? Does that change the amount they have learned?

What would be in the best interests of the teacher? The teacher has a set time-frame to assess every student – a semester, a week, a day perhaps. What would be fair to all of the students? If the teacher allows for maximum flexibility in assessment, are they setting the path to every student achieving their very best? What if the student does not display mastery at the same level as another student simply because the modality of the assessment does not allow for some expression of knowledge?

Suppose a science class is finishing a unit on the water cycle. One student might choose to be assessed traditionally by completing a paper based test. A second student may opt for more flexibility in how the information is presented and create a presentation with graphics and written paragraphs that explain the content. A third, less talented writer with test anxiety, may opt to create a dance that demonstrates the water cycle. All three students may have the same understanding. The mode of assessment will reveal different sets of knowledge.

The first student will show a prompted understanding of the knowledge deemed important by the teacher.

The second student – assuming they are a good writer – will be able to clearly articulate what they understand to be important in regards to the water cycle.

The third may be a highly accomplished dancer – and compose a dance that could be interpreted with all the same content as either of the first two students, but it is dependent on the teacher’s ability to understand the dance.

It seems there is a line between subjective assessment and objective assessment. Clear criteria, the correct and incorrect answers are set in one corner. As is the case with student one, accolades are given for reproducing the answer exactly as instructed. It is clear which student has the information and which does not. Some may argue that test anxiety gets in the way – a re-test on paper or even orally may be the remedy.

This is set against the modality of the student that creates their own mode of assessment and tells the teacher what they know. The second student clearly has done this.

The third student may need to interpret their work for the teacher, which is ultimately an oral report (a hybrid of student one and two); perhaps the second two students can even assesses their own work for their own grade. At what point is the assessment fair? At what point does the assessment support the learning of the student?

In life outside of school – which all teachers must consider in the instruction of students – the later, student created assessment, seems to be more applicable to growth. The answer to a real world problem rarely has a clear single solution. With the drive toward soft-skills such as flexibility and creativity this mode seems to be the most relevant. It also allows students to test how they want to be perceived in the world and how their ideas my be received. However, for the sake of teacher-ease and transparent fairness to the students, a clear ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ answer is clearly the way to go.

 

 

Reflecting on IGCSE Scope and Sequence

My students have the IGCSE Literature coursework over two years. They meet for 3 hours per week in four class periods. This gives them about just over the recommended 130 hours of guided learning (168 hours of seat time over 28 weeks of school, less time for special events and school-wide testing).

Each novel we have studied this year was done over about five weeks: four weeks to discuss, analyze, and synthesize the plot, themes, characters, important quotes and other literary elements. The remaining week is used to revise and take a mock exam on the one novel. For drama, I tended to take seven weeks to unpack the text in a similar way. Regarding short stories and poems, this was generally done with a two class series to study and revise. Followed by a mini-mock exam each week on the texts that were studied up to that point.

The class has been directed to paper one and paper two. With a small class and inexperienced IGCSE teaching staff, internal examination was not selected. Supplementary materials have ebbed with student needs. My current class found use in watching the full stage version of “A Raisin in the Sun”, excerpts from “A Separate Peace” and excerpts from multiple move and stage versions of “Romeo and Juliet”. The class last year, did none of these elements. We have also borrowed this year from the IBDP program assessment of the IOC as another method for textual examination – giving students the opportunity to speak about their understanding, rather than just writing about it. Our text sequence is aligned with the IGCSE History course. For example, during the Key-Study of South Africa, we are reading “Cry, Beloved Country” and during one of the WWII units, we read “A Separate Peace”.

The Cambridge scheme of work has been effective for student and class reference. We use it often as a formative and informal progress check. We do not follow a text book. The order of texts is in alignment with the content in other courses.

Bell Ringers and Exit Tickets

The idea there is that the start of every class is the same with the Bell Ringer activity and the close of the class is always one of five activities. I leave it open because depending on the class, different closing activities may be appropriate. Tradition is important – and it creates closure that the students can expect and count on. The ‘shout out’ is nice because it teaches students to be complimentary of others and recognize their academic talents. I limit to it to academic activities in class: “I like the way Ali identified his personal connection to the metaphor in the poem.”

Lesson Plan – NBCT Style

After many years of teaching and four years of hard work, I became an NBCT this year. Upon reflecting – my lesson plan is really key to effective planning.

In my experience the most important sections of a lesson plan are as follows: 
– The standard(s) addressed by the lesson

– The language function or command word within the learning objective (e.g. analyze or identify)

– The syntax within the class provided for the student to complete the work (e.g. class notes, annotation of text, Venn Diagram)

– A logical sequence of events such as: 1) Introduction/Get Thinking/Bell Ringer quick activity 2) Instruction of content through lecture, group work, or individual work (this may connect to homework). 3) Extension and practice from the instruction. This may be solo or within a small group. 4) Demonstration and sharing of learning – students share out with class, teacher assesses and questions for development of work.

I rarely use my lesson plan in the actual class. I often review the plan in advance of the class, first thing for the day. I always start with the lesson objective following or as part of the introduction activity. When I am unable to get to the formative or summative component due to time constraints, I will either add this to the homework for the night or push out the plan for an extension into the next class.

Think – Pair – Share

An interesting and often useful strategy for teachers. 1) Students take time to think about their personal response to a question (I have found this works best with critical thinking); 2) Students share with another student – they share their response and their thinking process – they have an opportunity to refine and check their understanding; 3) Students or pairings share with the group their responses.

In my experience, TPS is enhanced when the pairing is not just with a random person. There are productive pairings within the Zone of Proximal Development. Two intermediate learners in the same group can support the information and understanding that they each bring to the conversation. A high level student and a low level student does not result in mutual learning – because the high level student draws little to no benefit from the low level student. The low level student will either frustrate the high level student with their lack of knowledge or the high level student will spend their time teaching the low level student and receive no parallel exchange of information. One critique of this is that it keeps low level students with low level students. However, the sharing is an essential part of the learning strategy. Here, students are exposed to the range of ideas. If the teacher solicits responses from a range of ability levels, all students get heard and the exchange of ideas is  supported across levels while allowing small pairings to support each other at the same point in development.

AUTOMATED or AUTHENTIC ACTING

Does acting in acting class need to be authentic to the student?  I recently came across this question in a professional forum.

Certainly authenticity is good – especially in theatre. It is a creative process; the product is best when it is personal to the actor. However – I contend that this may only be the desired end product.

A novice actor needs skills to build from – guidance even clear direction to develop with. Ready, set, create… GO! Open ended creation can be difficult. Giving a student a framework, blocking, gesture, vocal placement, clear direction is not only good teaching, it is a real-world occurrence. In doing so, the teacher is supporting the skill level of the student and scaffolding from that point forward. Yes in theatre education, there should equally be as many opportunities to collaborate, devise, and create in an open-ended forum. These are key skills that theatre can main-line to the student; these later skills, require a prerequisite of experience to build from.

Consider instruction in English Language Arts. In middle school and high school, writing instruction is often prescribed. A teacher may say, “use these sign post words” or “use a first person voice”; they may further say submit your paper in 12 pt font and MLA format. And in the execution of that prescription, the student learns the structure, the form,  the style required and then can learn to write in that mode authentically. But, their first prescribed may not be authentic to the student.

I contend that the instruction of an acting student does not need to be much different. I am curious to see what other teachers of theatre may think on this point.

This approach of prescribed movements and highly directed or choreographed work could also be described as an “outside-in” style of acting. Physically based styles are widely used around the world. Included in this would be the Lazzo of the Fly from Commedia and the stylized movement and voice of Kabuki. Here are some examples.

You can see in the Lazzo, the movements are very planned, even choreographed in response to the music.

Here you can see an example of a planned combat scene in Kabuki. It has been done in this exact prescribed style for the past 400 years.

 

 

 

Year One, Term One: Reflection

After ten years at Explorer West, in Seattle, I transitioned my teaching career in one of the most drastic ways possible. I left a secure teaching position – one where I knew the ins and outs of each day – one where I knew the faculty and the community exceptionally well – and I took a position at a growing school in Casablanca Morocco.

My teaching was tested. I was tasked with setting up a new program in a school that was still finding its way in secondary education. A growing middle school program was my first charge; teaching new content and new lessons my second. Three content classes at three different levels made for six different preps and plans. Plus I had an additional course in advisory and community service. The program was growing. I was the only teacher dedicated to the secondary program. We lacked a math/science teacher. The position was filled by the Head of School while a search was under way.

It took an entire term to find the replacement. The first term we were metaphorically treading water. We were making the best choices we could to keep the program going. We wanted to create a community that was student driven – empowering students in a community that fostered intrinsic learning. But the challenges of building a secondary program from the ground up  was tremendous.

The work changed when a math/science teacher was hired and collaboration could truly begin.

How To: Writing Workshop for Performing Arts

Can a writing workshop work for any subject? Yes. Although, this assumes the liberal definition of a text, where anything with meaning, including but not limited to written words, can be composed or written. The “text” in question could be a traditional essay, a painting, or even a performance that eludes a fixed form.

The writer’s workshop allows for students work in relationship to a text by asking a strong question. For example, is Shylock, in Merchant of Venice, a hero or a villain? Students can build buy in by forming their own opinion about that question; they way they perform the text with the acting and character choices that they make will form a unique opinion that is expressed through a performance. The same is true for music. Students may be asked a question about the interpretation of a musical composition, or even be asked to compose an original score in response to an existing piece of music or in response to another piece of art. The performative interpretation becomes the student’s response.

A writing workshop depends on students setting their own goals. With a performance this is simple. The student must select artistic elements and skills that apply to the project. Individual work time is also a critical and simple step. With the given project of creating a performance in response to the question students can work on developing the selected artistic elements in their performance (such as character physicality or musical accent) by performing for each other and reflecting on the performances.

Through focused mini-lessons, derived from teacher observations, the teacher can direct the rehearsal process with a differentiated approach to the content. Further, guiding the meta-learning for the class, the teacher can introduce and model the learning target for the day as it relates to the project of answering the question. As students work, the teacher can provide one-on-one conferences with students by watching their work and asking guiding questions.

While this may not be a traditional writing workshop, it is certainly an effective adaptation for the performing arts. Likely, it would also work for Physical Education or any other skill based content that relies on a demonstration of skill rather than the presentation of knowledge in written form. I have seen it work in my class and can easily see it work in others.

You Should Champion the English Language and not Rant about Change

Every generation has cried out about the writing degradation of the next generation. Test scores are lower than ever, a critic may cry. But tests are biased ad are discriminatory to different populations depending on the content that the test asks about (Daniels, Steineke, and Zemelman, 2007).

The critic may try to expose the monumental outbreak that is assassinating the English language. “OMG” “LOL” and “BRB” are tearing apart our language. But, are they really? Language evolves with the people that use it.

What about “OK?” Historians cannot agree on the origination of the word. However, one dominant origination is from the phrase “orl korrekt” an alternate spelling of “all correct,” that was used in the U.S. during the 1830’s (for more explanation see http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/words/what-is-the-origin-of-the-word-ok).

From the birthplace of the English language, one of the greatest geniuses of all time, Shakespeare, made up more than 1700 words used in the common English of today (Mabillard, 2000). These words include, “exposure,” “birthplace,” “rant,” “dishearten,” “critic,” “monumental,” “outbreak,” “assassination,” and “champion.” There would not be a champion for the English language to rant about the disheartened critics, without Shakespeare.

The English language has been changing with every generation because of the way that people communicate. Perhaps today, the change is even more rapid. A teacher may say that their students hate to write; in reality the student may simply hate to write what the teacher wants (Daniels, Steineke, and Zemelman, 2007). However, students are not writing well for academic purposes (Daniels, Steineke, and Zemelman, 2007). This impacts the path of the student throughout life as they may struggle to learn advanced content in any given subject matter, as they work to meet state standards, as they seek out advanced education and take high-stakes testing such as the SAT and ACT, and as they seek out employment.

How should a teacher go about teaching writing? One strategy is Writing to Learn so that the teacher is not simply teaching “how to write;” the teacher should teach students how to learn through writing. Therefore, teachers should use writing in the following formats so that writing becomes part of the learning process: short, spontaneous, exploratory, informal, personal, one draft, unedited, and ungraded. These writing styles exist in every subject. From the quick notes that a science student makes about an experiment to the brainstorm “word cloud” that goes into writing an essay in English. The idea of ungraded work may be a novel approach in a school. But, a comprehensive correction of student writing does not and never has worked to teach writing (Daniels, Steineke, and Zemelman, 2007). Writing can be used instead to start discussions, feed small-group work, and review key ideas. From this point, the teacher can help the student act upon their writing impulses and guide the students to an academic voice in their writing.

Writing will always evolve and inform culture; if writing is also informed with an academic voice, it will change society in a way that is powerful and lasting (just as Shakespeare has done). As Gandhi said, “you must be the change you wish to see in the world.” Teachers take note and champion the change in the English Language because change will happen with or without your influence.

References:

Daniels, H., Steineke, N., & Zemelman, S. (2007). Content-area writing: Every teacher’s guide. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Mabillard, Amanda. Words Shakespeare Invented. Shakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2000. http://www.shakespeare-online.com/biography/wordsinvented.html .

Content Area Reading Strategy: Academic Lanugage Focus

Secondary students struggle with content area reading because they do not understand the words on the page. What should a teacher do about this? One strategy is to focus on academic vocabulary. Students need to make personal connections to what they read and cannot do this if they are stuck on phonetic decoding. By breaking out the vocabulary acquisition into three tiers (Daniels and Zemelman, 2014) both teachers and students can strategically approach the instruction. Tier One includes vocabulary that the student already knows; teaching these words will help the student activate their prior knowledge. Tier Two words are important over many years in many disciplines both your own and others; examples include parallel, theme, and base; teaching these words will help students make connections to ideas outside of the content and reinforce the meaning in the content. Tier Three words are technical with narrow definition; these words should be taught for the lesson and looked up for further clarity; a student will engage the text at an analytical level. Teaching with vocabulary in mind will help with pre-reading, accessing previous knowledge, connecting to personal experiences, and reading for deeper meaning in the text; these are all proven reading strategies.

Reference:

Daniels, H., & Zemelman, S. (2014). Subjects matter: Exceeding standards through powerful content-area reading (Second ed.).