Amy Clubb teaches CAS at Rock Creek, presented a break out session on "Myths of Assessment" at the Anderson Conference, and participated in the assessment class put on by the Learning Assessment Council Fall 2010.
I recently attended a presentation on the topic of motivation. I was reminded how everything we do in life is driven by some sort of motivation – whether we recognize what the motivation is or not. I took some time and looked at many activities in my life and wondered “What is my motivation for doing this?” I was surprised at many of my responses and how they were often centered on selfish desires or extrinsic (outward) rewards. But the practice of simply asking myself the question was good! It made me think about why I do what I do and reassess what’s important.
So, what does this have to do with assessment? Well, I could dive into a monologue on how motivation and assessment are closely tied (they are!) and how assessment, when used effectively, can be a method of motivating our students towards success and more engaged learning. But I’ll leave that topic for another day. Instead, I want to challenge my colleagues to engage in a similar, daily reflective practice. But since we’re talking about assessment, our daily question should be:
“What do I want my students to learn today, and how am I going to know that they learned it?”
As adult educators, we need to focus on our students and their learning. It’s easy to get into a routine of teaching, especially if we are teaching the same course from term to term. We approach each class session with the question, “What am I going to teach today?” This question focuses on us rather than the student. It focuses on our expertise and our knowledge in our field, instead of the learning experience of the student. If we are to effectively work towards a climate of student-focused learning, we must change the question and ask instead, “What do I want my students to learn today?” This should be our central focus. This should drive our class activities, assignments, demonstrations, and lectures. If you have a clear list of outcomes for your course, this should be a question that you can answer for every class session. Simply asking the question before every class can serve as a reminder that the learning should be focused on the learner – not the teacher!
This is a good start – we have shifted from focusing on ourselves as the teacher, to our students as learners. But it’s not enough! After asking, “What do I want my students to learn today?” we must follow it up with the question, “and how am I going to know that they learned it?” This is where effective, outcomes-based, formative assessment comes in. We can’t wait until the mid-term or the final to find out if our students are learning what we want them to learn. We must engage in some form of assessment activity in every class session. This is what formative assessment is all about. It’s the process of finding out if our students are learning what we want them to be learning – and then adjusting our future learning activities accordingly. The assessment activity doesn’t need to be hard or complex. Many of our classes already have assignments that can be used as formative assessment. It’s possible that this is already happening in our classrooms – we just haven’t taken the time to ask the question and put the focus back on the learner.
Effective, learner-focused assessment must begin with clear outcomes. Otherwise, what’s the point?
My challenge to you is to take a moment before each class that you teach this week and ask yourself, “What do I want my students to learn today, and how am I going to know that they learned it?”
And, if you are a self-reflective person like me, you might want to take a moment at the start of each day and ask yourself, “What are the motives that are driving my choice of activities throughout my day today?”