How do we know if students are ready to learn what we want to teach them? How do we know how to teach them?
The answers lie in continually assessing and addressing what students know, what they are confused about, and what they are able or unable to do.
We cannot effectively instruct our students unless we take a careful account of their knowledge base and skill level on an ongoing basis.
Every teacher struggles with the question of how to assess students accurately, fairly, and efficiently. When the purpose of instruction is understanding, ongoing assessment is vital for providing the information that both teachers and students need to make subsequent teaching, learning, and understanding possible.
Teachers need to be mindful of both formal and informal assessments of their students in order to reach and teach them in the most effective way possible. The best teachers are good “kid watchers.” They see how students are responding to what they are doing and adjust their teaching based on student responses. Often it is just a handful of students who are willing to speak and share ideas in class. For others, it is important to ascertain everything from body language, to student conversation, to one-on-one chats with students, in order to teach effectively. It’s important to keep careful notes on students as they progress. If you see that students are becoming confused or frustrated, you may need to re-explain assignments, modify them, or change gears.
Students also need clear and continual feedback if they are to overcome any confusion that might prevent them from forming deep understandings. They need to know when they are on track and when they are not. Appropriate feedback can help students deepen their knowledge base and skill level, make appropriate connections, and apply what they are learning to novel situations. It can help them transform the quality of their thought and of their work.
The question is how can this be done effectively and efficiently? One thing is certain. To get an accurate and complete picture of what your students know and are able to do, you will need a multi-faceted approach to data collection:
Informal Assessment: A One Time Snapshot is Never Enough
Getting a clear picture of what a student can and cannot do requires different types of assessments. Not all assessments need to be formal, and not all of them need to be pencil and paper. Some just require thoughtful observation of a student’s words or actions. However, a one-time snapshot is never enough.
Students Change and Grow
Students constantly grow and change. Teachers need ongoing information in order to tailor instruction in a meaningful way. Without taking continual stock of what your students know and are able to do, your instruction will likely become hit or miss.
Give Students Options to “Show What They Know”
Teachers need to provide students with a variety of ways to demonstrate their understanding, and they need to give students clear and specific feedback about what it would take to improve their next performance. Teachers must figure out what evidence will give them the most specific information about how well their students are meeting the learning targets. Teachers also need to determine how this data can help guide their instruction.
There are several key issues here:
- First think about the goals of your unit of study. What are your students’ learning targets?
- Then determine how to best assess each of those learning targets. Think about what data you can glean through written assessments, performance-based assessments, and through careful observations of what your students say and do. It is important to carefully match each assessment with your purpose for giving it.
- Finally, determine how you will use the data you collect to adjust and target your instruction to your students’ needs. If the information you collect gives you a clear and specific picture of what your students know and can do and what confusions they have, it will help you differentiate instruction. The data will enable you to develop both effective intervention strategies for students who do not meet the objectives, and enrichment and acceleration strategies for those who exceed them.
In order to teach students effectively we must be able to assess what they do accurately, fairly, and efficiently. Once we can see where the students are “at” it is easier to instruct them and clear up any confusions. This not only requires some formal, pen and paper assessments but also requires teachers to be good “kid watchers.” Effective evaluation is not just a momentary snapshot of a student’s work. By observing students and listening carefully to what they say and do, a teacher can a much deeper understanding of what each students understands and when additional assistance is needed.
Thank you for participating in this mini-course. If you have any questions or would like additional information, then please feel free to contact us.