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.

 

 

Reflection on PRESENTING in CLASS

I think presentation is essential. Therefore, I ask that my students do it frequently and the stress is lessened. All students are also rewarded with a single clap of respect from the entire class after every presentation, 1, 2, 3, *clap*. It’s just part of my expectations. However, I have provided accommodations for students gripped with fear. Accommodations have included, presentation in a seated position instead of standing in front of the class, written work read by another student on behalf of the shy student, small group instead of full class presentations, recorded at home and sent in presentations, and fully excused presentations as part of an identifiable medical disability. Any clearly seen accommodations like this are often accompanied with a class discussion about different abilities with fear and presenting – as well as why learning to talk in front of the group is important.

Assessment of Literature Ability

This one lesson activity is conceived of as being an INITIAL ASSESSMENT to analyze student ability at the start of an IGCSE literature course. It easily could be adapted to other subjects and grades in the upper school. 

OBJECTIVE: To identify literary elements within a text for further analysis

BELL RINGER: 1 minute: Name as many literary elements as possible (such as metaphor or simile)

PARTNER WORK: 10 minutes: – share your list with your partner. Define any common elements together. Define any unique elements on your own. Use your combined experience to craft a shared definition. Use a dictionary as needed.

(Informal teacher assessment here – observing the wealth of and accuracy of knowledge within the class)

GROUP ACTIVITY: 15 minutes: Share one element and the definition, aloud with the class (practice presentation of information). Individual students note any elements they did not have on their list, note definitions. Students should be left with a list of literary elements.

INDIVIDUAL ACTIVITY: Formative assessment. 20 minutes:  Students are given one of four or five (depending on group size) short texts (a paragraph, a poem, for example – ideally from the syllabus for future scaffolding). Students, annotate their unique text in the following way. The teacher should provide a live demonstration of this – or at least an exemplar of annotation.

– Highlight any literary element

– Annotate a description of the element

– Make any connections, in writing to the text as a whole or to other literary elements

FORMATIVE ASSESSMENT: Students turn in work from the class. Count literary elements with correct definitions. Note current knowledge of students.

NEXT CLASS: SMALL GROUP WORK: Pass back formative assessments: Students connect in groups (based on text) and make note of their work and compare to others. They review their understanding in contrast to others. Students create one large annotated (collaborative poster) on their text. Students present their work to the class. Students can then craft an essay in response to their text. Use a past paper question to guide the in-class text. This becomes a second formative assessment looking for essay structure and response style.

  1. THE ASSESSMENT WILL HELP present the learners’ level of understanding with factual information (identification of literary elements in a text) and the application of that understanding (composing an essay).
  2. WITH THIS INFORMATION instructional decisions will be made to teach (or not) the identification of literary elements, textual annotation, essay composition.
  3. LEARNERS WITHOUT THE ABILITY will be identified from the first ten minutes of class. They could get, elements highlighted but not identified (or the reverse “look for a comparison”). Learners may need ESL accommodations (such as mother tongue translation). Learners may need to be referred to a learning support team. This two day assessment will identify a range of skills that can be scaffolded. It will also provide support to the student through the collaborative elements.

Command Words – Lesson Plan

LESSON ONE: COMMAND WORDS

LEARNING TARGET: To understand different levels of presenting information (fact,analysis, and synthesis) and apply them to command words in test questions.

Bell Ringer/pre-assessment: Students respond in writing to question for one minute, then share out ideas: 

What is the difference between the presentation of facts, the development of analysis, and a synthesis of ideas?

(Gather learner friendly responses)

Practice one: Students Take ten minutes to answer the following questions, writing independently

Explore the ways… with three examples that the story of “The Three Pigs” tells the reader about theme of hard work.

How… does “The Three Pigs” tell the reader about the theme of hard work through the plot?

How far does… the story tell the reader that hard work is important? Cite evidence from the plot that is in favor and against.

In what ways… using three examples does “The Three Pigs” support the main idea of hard work through character development?

To what extent… do you agree that “The Three Pigs” is about the theme of hard work? Provide three pieces of evidence from the text that support one or both sides of your position.  

Supporting Activity- Small Groups: Student compare their responses with each other in a small group setting.  

Questions for conversation: What was different about your responses?

What was similar about your responses?

What was different about the questions?

What was similar about the questions?

Extension Activity- Individual / Full Group: Students respond to the following question, first in a “five-minute” quick write and then share their responses in a class conversation. 

If the question was not about hard work or “The Three Pigs” and instead about a different theme or story, what would be different or the same about your response? How do the command words (how, how far, In what ways, To what extent, Explore the ways) connect to the way you respond? Which questions are asking for facts? Which questions are asking for analysis? Which questions are asking for synthesis?

Extension Practice, Formative Assessment: 

Write five questions using the same command words for a book that you have already read.

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.”

How to Evaluate Memorization

Memorization is a key skill in theatre and in life – but some kids need more or less support. Sometimes it even depends on their ability level. In my experience one point for each word becomes tricky – different students have different word counts and different memorization challenges in a particular script. Instead, I look at levels of memorization. It helps me direct student support for follow up.

Here is a general rubric that I like to use:

“Top Marks” – 10 points for being  Word Perfect

“Job Done” – 7-9 points for being basically word perfect. Maybe some transposition of words or dropped words. Perhaps a missed sentence (depending on length).

“Support Needed” 4 – 6 points, student missed more than a sentence, called for line or looked at script (1 – 3 times).

“Significant Revision Required” –  1-3 points for being unable to complete memorization or in need of more than three prompts.

I’ll assign a Student AD or SM to make notes on any missing or incorrect words by highlighting a revision script for the actors or by making line notes specifically for each actor.

Additionally, it is important to:

  • Give students memorization tools before giving them a memorization assignment (or make sure they have experience with memorization).
    • Tools include: writing and re-writing the lines by hand (speaking aloud while re-writing can also be helpful)
    • Writing cue lines on one side of an index card and the full line on the other side. Students can study like flash cards. Again, speaking aloud is preferred.
    • Memorizing line by line or sentence by sentence in what I call the A, AB, BC, CD, method so that what has been memorized gets linked to what will be memorized and the text is evenly memorized throughout.
    • Physical cues within text. Students can connect physical action such as blocking or character gesture to pieces of text. These gestures are fully implemented as part of performance whenever possible.
    • Sound cues in text. It helps students to use auditory clues such as alliteration, onomatopoeia, rhyming, and rhythm to memorize a text. Sometimes it takes a study of these poetic elements to cue into the memorization.
    • Memorization to a song.  Use an established song melody and fit the spoken words to that song. Play the song again and again.
  • Give students ample time to memorize their texts and scaffold the memorization so that it is not all due at one time. I often tie memorization deadlines to the rehearsal following completion of blocking for a scene. (Alternating in sets of four for rehearsal: 1) Table read and discussion of scene; 2) Blocking of scene, on book; 3) run of scene memorized blocking and lines; 4) working of the scene, “stop, work, fix, go”.

 

 

 

Youth Theater Needs Lessons – not simply games

I’ve been working in the field of youth theater for the past decade. I find that when it comes to training acting skills and getting specific with young actors about the skills they are learning such as voice, speech, physicality, using objectives, and general analysis of a character plot and given circumstances, Drama games do not cut it. Drama or improvisation games are good for general, unspecific, and inferred skills that actors use every day in theater. However, to break through that and actually transfer knowledge in an explicit way, Young actors need formative lessons that are equivalent to a musician playing a piece of music. Similarly, you cannot train a classical musician through jazz improvisation. Drama or improvisation games are good. But, I do not rely on them anyway to actually teach my students. Drama and improvisation games are good for days when I want to depart from a lesson sequence. Yes, fun is essential in learning and especially in a creative discipline such as theater. However, it is difficult to engage student voice and ask students to articulate what they have learned in a drama game. Learning should be based on formative lessons with specific skills that are being practiced in improvisation or a script.

Three Tiers of Words: Three Reading Strategies: Increased Personalization and Understanding

At the heart of great teaching is differentiation; this teaching tactic of differentiation inside of the teaching content area applies to language acquisition, stages of language, and academic language development; this work will help students across multiple content areas (P2).

In researching this teaching topic area, I reflected on two effective techniques for teaching academic language through a differentiated approach.

FIRST: Three Tiers of Words for Differentiated 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.

SECOND: Three Levels of Reading for increased meaning and differentiated instruction

  • Level One, read for general understanding (identify words in all three tiers)
  • Level Two, making personal connections to other content areas
  • Level Three, extending the text to connect and converse with other texts

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(LINK TO POST)

Breaking the academic words into these three tiers allows both the teacher and the students to strategically approach the task of learning. By emphasizing the vocabulary early in the process of learning it can be reinforced at every step of the lesson.

In pre-reading students can identify words across tiers and note their meanings.

In connecting to personal experiences, a second stage of effective reading, students can connect their experiences of each word (especially Tier Two Words) in other classes to the text that they are examining and use the Tier One Words, words they already know, to build their knowledge and connection to the new text.

Finally as a student reads for deeper meaning, they are ready to ask bigger questions about the words and their interconnected meanings. By engaging in a process of inter-textuality, they will solidify the understanding and be able to comment on the text in relationship to other texts they have read.

Academic words in all three areas continually emerge in both Theatre Arts and English Language arts because both content areas examine texts from multiple sources with multiple narratives. I often tell my students that my class is not simply a drama class. Rather, my class is every class in the disguise of a drama class. Students must be prepared to speak about any topic that they know about. Because of this, they build their understanding of both of the first two tiers. Some common examples of these words are: inner-monologue, character development, and memorization.

The third tier words are then used most commonly through the language demand and are particular to the performance assignment. One simple example would be, blocking (the specific movement of actors on the stage).

Because of my research into the three tiers of academic language and three common phases of reading, my instruction has changed. I am more apt to point out academic words that make a connection between subjects and encourage students to read a text three times for increased clarity and deeper meaning. With each reading of the text I can guide the student by suggesting that they look for general understanding on their first time through a text, connections between the text and other subjects on their second read, and the conversation between one text and another in their third reading.

By using this three tier and three read through strategy, students are more likely to fully understand and personalize the text. Because a central practice of Theatre Arts is personalization and finding increased meaning, these strategies are invaluable to the students (and to myself). Further, different students will be reading at different levels. Knowing which level a reader is working on will allow myself to differentiate my instruction for that student.

One consequence of using this technique is lost time. It will take students three-times longer to complete any reading assignment. Because of this, reading assignments must be both shortened and be given in class time for guided completion. However, the benefits will outweigh the cost. Students will generate more connections inside of my content area and in content areas outside of my classroom.

Know Thy Students: Expect Diversity

“Our understanding of a group remains incomplete when the perspective of either the insider or the outsider is overlooked (Banks, C.A.M., 1996, p 52).” Knowing the group is essential for anyone in teaching because teaching is a two-way relationship. Students must understand their teacher and the teacher must teach to the student understanding. How does one get to know their students? Multicultural education requires a dynamic curriculum that is derived from the interests of the teacher and the interests of their students (Mvududu, 2015). It is true that teachers must continually adapt and change their instruction. Early in my teaching career I had a challenging experience.

I was hired as an after school tutor. Previously, I had worked for a very middle-class and white population of middle and elementary school aged students in a one-on-one environment. Now, I was hired to work in a low-income and racially diverse school. I was to implement after school programming such as yard games and arts activities in addition to homework help. On paper, I was a great fit. In reality, I was not ready to do the work to form a relationship with students that saw this after school program as a holding tank that they had to stay at because their parents could not pick them up. One student in particular expressed this opinion nearly every day. Both a Pacific Islander and a musician, he loved to play a ukulele. I would frequently stop him from playing. I would tell him to put the ukulele away so that he could participate in my activities. “You can’t keep me here,” he would say as he stormed off and ran down the hall away from the gym, where he was supposed to stay. Because it was an after school program and because the school was already understaffed, I could not leave the gym. I had to call for support when this happened. The student was frequently angry. While I tried to treat the student with respect, it became difficult for me to do when he attacked my own identity. “You’re not like me, you wouldn’t understand.” I wanted to understand. But, the barrier that was between us was too difficult to overcome. I gave up and left the position as soon as a replacement could be hired.

Both of us, the student and myself, constructed a meta-narrative about each other. We both had an alien voice for each other. We both made assumptions about whom the other of us was. If we could have challenged our instinctual notions and in turn challenged the metanarrative, just as early African American Scholars did with the story of the Westward Movement (Banks, C.A.M., 1996, p 52), there could have been change; we could have told the whole story, or at least have gotten closer to a full picture of each other. But, the damage of our mutually exclusive meta-narrative was done. We needed our stories to be unpacked. I wanted to help and he wanted to be heard. Sometimes we a set back because of the metanarrative that is given to us; this is the same story that we take as the truth about the world. We must question the metanarrative and ask to hear the voices that are put down just as the voices of the Native Americans were put down and adjusted in the footnotes of history. We, teachers, cannot sideline a student because we do not understand them. This of course crosses racial lines and includes any diversity that a student may bring to the classroom. We cannot make assumptions about the metanarrative they bring to the classroom. We must work to unpack and uncover the multiple narratives that talks about both the minority and majority experience of the student.

I understand from that experience that the job of a teacher is far more than instruction and organizing activities. The job of a teacher is to connect with their students. If I could do it again, I would. I would make more of an attempt to get to know this troubled student. I would ask him open-ended questions. I would share about my own ideas and try to find points of common connection. I would have let him play his ukulele and even lead the group in song. It would have been completely appropriate for the after school program. I bet he would have changed his mind about me. I bet I would have changed my mind about him.

If a teacher constructs a meta-narrative about a student they can become pinned down to that narrative. For me, that student will always be a troubled student that I was unable to reach. If I had implemented a dynamic curriculum that was responsive to the needs and identity of my students, I would have made a positive impact. “Multicultural education, as we’ve seen, supports just that dynamic, curriculum rising in part from the interests and backgrounds of diverse kids (Mvududu, 2015).” We must teach the students that show up in our class and use their cultural assets and interests to instruct them in the content.

Discussing my successes with culturally responsive teaching would be easy. I have now developed a program in my drama classes that demands that students talk about what they know and love. By making my curriculum implicitly responsive to the student interests (by having them create the content) I am forced into a culturally responsive stance. However, I must continually improve. Another recent challenge for me rests in a student that left the school before the year was completed. This student felt alienated; I can only assume the reasons. He is Middle Eastern with a very dark complexion. He looked black to many students and was often confused for African American. He is Muslim; this is a fact I did not learn until after his departure. He was incredibly short and believed that the NBA had a spot waiting for him. He was the last of seven children. Many teachers, including myself, believed that his parents had given up on him. We would have benefited from these wise words, “all families, no matter what their income, race, education, language, or culture, want their children to do well in school – and can make an important contribution to their children’s learning (Mvududu, 2015).” We tried to work with the family; but our work was far too late in the game. I tried, for about a year, to connect with this struggling student. He declined, often, to share details about his life

We cannot reach every student. As teachers, it is impossible to know every student as well as we should. It is an unfortunate numbers game. But, I still put the blame on my plate. I could have spent more time getting to know him and less time “supporting his academics.” I saw him as a struggling student and he stayed a struggling student.

Know THYSELF, linked here.

Know THY SUBJECT, linked here.

Back to Prologue and Epilogue, here.

References:

Banks, C.A.M. (1996). Intellectual Leadership and the Influence of Early African American Scholars on Multicultural Education. In J.A. Banks (Ed.), Multicultural Education: Transformative Knowledge and Action (pp. 46-63). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Mvududu, N. (Director) (2015, May 1). Class Lectures. Diversity in America, Spring Quarter. Lecture conducted from Seattle Pacific University, Seattle.