Sunday, September 22, 2013

Assessing Assessment

Assessment is an aspect of my classes that seems to change every year.  I have yet to find a model that I'm completely happy with.  It really comes down to the essential question, "How do I know what my students know?"  Assessment looks different in all of my classes, but what binds them together is that assessment is always a tool for me to see how the students are understanding in the moment, where they are on the learning continuum, and provides feedback to adjust my teaching.

I've taken a leap into Project Based Learning in my Biology class this year.  To be honest, I have no idea if I'm doing this the "right" way, but I do know that I want students to be more engaged in authentic learning experiences and less concerned about passing a test.  The Unit 1 project question is, "What types of factors are threatening food webs?"  Students have been completing in-class research for their individual projects, and production of the projects will begin soon.

In the meantime, I designed a ten-point quiz to "test the waters" of student understanding for the same objectives upon which the project is based.  As I explained to the students, everyone will receive 100% on this quiz, but it might take some students longer than others.  I set up the quiz on Schoology, so students were able to see what questions they got wrong right away.  Before the next class, I created individualized review assignments for each student based on their areas of misunderstanding on the quiz, and they worked with partners in class to review those concepts.  Any students who did not score 100% on the first quiz then retook the quiz (same concepts, different questions).  More students were able to pass the second time around, but there were still some who did not score 100%.  During a research day in class, I visited with each student who still had errors and discussed any misunderstandings 1:1.  They then took the quiz a third time.  If there were errors on this version, I went over their mistakes with them verbally, and in all cases the student was able to explain why s/he answered the question incorrectly and what the correct answer was.

Positive aspects of this quizzing scheme were that students did not experience the "pressure" of a typical quiz.  I think they understood that this process was intended to help them learn more, not assess if they had learned everything they were "supposed" to learn by a certain point.  I also saw some great interactions between students as they taught each other during the individualized review activity.

There are a few parts of this process that I need to work on before the next quiz, however.  It takes a lot of time on my part to create all of the individualized review and multiple versions of quizzes.  I'd like to find a more automated way of doing this.  Secondly, the class time that is required for me to individually review with students between Quiz 2 and Quiz 3 is an obstacle.  I haven't yet come up with a way to make that process more efficient either.  There is still a handful of students I was never able to meet with last week during class to discuss their errors on Quiz 2.  I don't want this process to stretch on forever.

And finally, I'm still asking myself, does this quizzing process truly assess what my students know about food webs?  Is this really the best indicator of what they have learned?  I'm waiting to pass judgement on this for now, as the student projects have yet to be unveiled.  In my mind, these projects will be the true testament to the depth of student learning.  It is my hope that the quizzes and projects will eventually work hand in hand.  For now, it's on to my next to assess the student projects. I will happily take advice on this or any of the questions I've described above.  As always, the one constant in my classes is that assessment will continue to evolve.

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