TEACHING & LEARNING:​

Assessment for Learning

The true test of education is not just what students know; it is whether students become competent life-long learners. It is a hefty task for education to develop in students the curiosity to continuously learn.

TEACHING & LEARNING:

Assessment for Learning

The true test of education is not just what students know; it is whether students become competent life-long learners. It is a hefty task for education to develop in students the curiosity to continuously learn.

We are used to viewing grades and certificates as the end goal of education. But that is not R.E.A.L’s goal.

We go deeper than the surface of test scores, and attempt to answer the tough questions: what is truly important in a curriculum? How do you ensure the learning journey our children embark on prepares them for life? How do we shift from students wanting to know what to memorize for an exam, to wanting to understand the information and how they can apply their knowledge to their life experiences?

We must be extremely careful, ensuring we measure what counts. Memorizing is not understanding. We find that student portfolios are an ideal way of measuring a student’s learning journey. The portfolio is a cumulative record of a student’s work over time, through projects, presentations, and other activities.

"Each project in the student portfolio is like a learning pit stop in their journey."

How can we know what goes on in a student’s mind? The first person to know this is the student. Students have to demonstrate their knowledge through actions, and communicate them in their own words. They take the learning objective and what is in their minds, and convert it into activities that display the learning outcome. Teachers measure this best through projects that incorporate actions and communication. Each project in the student portfolio is like a learning pit stop in their journey.

This brings us to the next question: How do we know that their performance meets the objectives? We use a well-designed standard or rubrics to grade the work that clearly states the objectives. These rubrics are given to the student before the project. By reviewing the rubrics, students understand how they will be measured, they take on the responsibility of knowing what they need to do to achieve the learning objectives, and are able to measure their own performance against their outcomes.

"Much education today is monumentally ineffective. All too often we are giving young people cut flowers when we should be teaching them to grow their own plant."

John W. Gardner (1912-2002)

There should be fewer standardized tests, because tests only speak the language of failure or ‘not good enough’.

Grades, marks, and failures are traditionally viewed in a negative light. They are the currency of education in that the better your grades or marks, the better your education.

Failures are treated as a loss, when in fact they should be treated as a gain in the opportunity to learn. Students should not be trained to fear failure. Failures do not determine intelligence and should not discourage learners from pursuing their learning journey.

"Each project in the student portfolio is like a learning pit stop in their journey."

A number is not enough to judge what a student is capable of. A grade actually labels the learner. For those who do not get the ‘smart’ label, the grade kills their love for learning. A grade can make a learner feel that they are just not smart enough, which has a significant effect especially on younger minds.

Assessments should instead be used by the students to self-reflect, to discover who they are, and through that, to embrace life-long learning.

There are two reasons for measuring students: to assign a grade as a mark of achieving a standard, and to provide students with feedback for them to improve themselves. By measuring through performance, both the teacher and student are engaged. Students develop their performance, whilst teachers evaluate them and facilitate where necessary.

Students learn through the experience. Teachers, on the other hand, observe the student’s strengths and weaknesses through the performance, giving them the ability to provide immediate feedback.

"If education is always to be conceived along the same antiquated lines of a mere transmission of knowledge, there is little to be hoped from it in the bettering of man's future. For what is the use of transmitting knowledge if the individual's total development lags behind?"

Maria Montessori (1870-1952)

"Assessments should instead be used by students to self-reflect, to discover who they are, and through that, to embrace lifelong learning."

Think of the feedback process as a racer pulling into the pit stop to get refuelled, their tyres changed, and everything else they need to keep racing. Teachers take the measurements of the students’ progress and refuel them with feedback and guidance to keep learning. Teachers merely facilitate the experience, never telling the students to get out of the car for them to take over the race.

The power of feedback is in being able to let teachers change the approach when it doesn’t work for a student, or challenge students to further deepen their learning experience. Being able to monitor and mediate in short intervals ensures that students don’t spend a term or a year struggling to learn or not learning at all. If students miss out on the learning outcomes, lesson after lesson, they are being set up to underperform in the next lesson or term.

In motorsports, they have planned pit stops but the strategy continuously changes throughout the race to accommodate the racer, the vehicle, and the driving conditions. They change their strategies to what works best for that particular race, at that particular time.

Similarly, teachers should change their approach to facilitating a students’ learning experience as they progress. We know that there is no cookie-cutter approach to teaching all students, and we cannot know which approach suits whom, without frequent measurement and feedback.

We can’t reduce the entire term’s learning to one test at the end of the term. We need to track their journey, experience after experience. When we include student participation and self-reflection, we gain insights into the learner and their learning journey. We are tracking their understanding and application over time, not their ability to memorize for one test. Assessments and learning should not be mutually exclusive, and that is the major shift we must make.

Students should be actively involved in their own learning as drivers of their learning journey, and it is the process of constant measurement and effective feedback from the teacher that enriches their self-motivation to achieve more for themselves.

At the same time, teachers become aware of the adjustments required in their teaching approach, to enhance the students’ experience. Recognizing the strong influence of feedback and assessments on students’ performance motivates teachers to facilitate their development.

We cannot capture everything in a student’s mind with a grade. As educators, we are responsible for the pit stops: for ensuring they truly understand by demonstrating the knowledge, and being facilitators of the experience by refuelling our learners. R.E.A.L measures understanding, we don’t assess memory. We do not cultivate masters of test-taking for the term; we cultivate learners and thinkers for life.