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Follow-Up: Who Has Time to Assess?

Ryan Kinser
After reading the posts of my fellow bloggers and engaging in an idea-rich Twitter chat with colleagues over the past week, I've discovered some common concerns among teachers regarding assessment and student learning. Some pressing questions surfaced, one of which I still struggle with: How do we find the time to provide detailed, accurate, and useful assessment feedback to students?

I suspect thousands of teachers feel like Bill Ferriter, who in his recent blog entry, "Is Real Formative Assessment Even Possible?" describes the utter exhaustion that comes from constantly assessing hundreds of students and then improving his teaching strategies. Add in the learner traits that are difficult to quantify like those three C's I mentioned in my previous post (creativity, communication, collaboration), and many of our current tests start to look like an ugly fourth C: convenience.

So, how do we eschew the convenience of superficial, data-driven tests for efficient, yet purposeful assessment and feedback?

We make the process transparent and co-owned by students.

Spending time early in the year deconstructing rubrics into student-friendly language, asking students to propose other important benchmarks, and modeling exemplary performance, gains precious instructional time in the long run. Add prewritten feedback opposite those benchmarks whenever possible, and you have transparent, reusable data chat templates for students. Anticipating your comments helps students predict common mistakes and assess themselves and each other during the process.

Taking this a step further, why not invite students to focus on a few specific benchmarks within a larger set of objectives? In my student-led conferences, I ask students to select one or two benchmarks they want to discuss. Then I do the same. For those youngsters who need more guidance, offer conference starter sentences for each objective. Students come to the table aware they'll be graded on all the objectives but they'll get my detailed personal feedback on the area they need the most. We compare notes, and then students are required to write summaries of my comments in comparison to their own. You might even consider recording narrative summaries of these discussions or of your feedback rather than handing back lots of written comments. These digital files are great for parents to gain perspective on the interactive process in your classroom.

By focusing on creating clearly defined expectations, replicating detailed rubrics, and eliciting student self-assessment when appropriate, teachers can hone the art of assessing the smaller daily interactions between our students and us. This is where the real learning takes place.

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