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Evaluating Performance of Students in Constructivist

Classroom Environment
Dr. Sudarshan Mishra 1
Assistant Professor in Education, Army Institute of Education, Kandhar Lines, Ring
Road, Delhi Cantt., New Delhi-110010. E-mail: sudarshanmishra@yahoo.com, Phone-
011-25683535 (O), 09911871142 (M)

Abstract
Several committees and commissions including NCF (2005) reported about the growing problems
of psychological pressure that children and their parents feel during examination. A good
evaluation system should become an integral part of learning process and benefit both the
learners and all stakeholders of educational system by giving credible feedback. Learning
theories have traveled a long way from learning as response strengthening to learning as
knowledge acquisition to learning as knowledge construction. The focus of learning is shifted
from the structured teaching of the teacher to learners’ construction of their own knowledge,
which is grounded in the constructivist view of learning. The purpose of this article is to describe
the conceptual underpinnings of constructivist learning alongwith its variations and implications
for classroom evaluation taking guiding principles of NCF (2005) as base. Constructivist
evaluation is based on constructivist learning theory. The assessment environment has two major
subdivisions: what defines the assessment environment and what influences the assessment
environment. The defining elements of assessment environment are teacher beliefs, teacher
practices and student engagement. Influences on the assessment environment are both internal
and external. Teachers should use a variety of assessments to make students grading. Students
should be given multiple opportunities to show their competencies may be in terms of visuals,
performing, writing, talking, designing, and presenting knowledge as individuals and in groups.
Assessment of students’ knowledge should be application oriented. It should include higher order
thinking skills (HOTS) and problem-solving. Some of the methodologies of evaluation in a
constructivist environment such as formative evaluation, self-evaluation, peer-evaluation,
collaborative evaluation, portfolio assessment, etc. are also being discussed.

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This paper was presented in the National Seminar organized by Regional Institute of Education, Mysore
(A constituent body of NCERT, New Delhi) on the theme “Pedagogy for Schools” during 02-04 March
2011.

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1.0 Introduction
Evaluation is one of the basic forms of disciplined inquiry. It is that form of inquiry
whose focus is some evaluand (program, process, organization, person, etc.) and which
results in “merit” and/or “worth” constructions (judgments) about it (Guba and
Lincoln, 1989). Merit constructions is based on the intrinsic quality of an evaluand,
irrespective of the setting in which it may find applications. Worth constructions is based
on the extrinsic usefulness or applicability of an evaluand in a concrete local setting.

In the Indian education system, the term evaluation is associated with examination, stress
and anxiety. Examinations are given undue importance in the present education system.
Examinations do not serve the needs of social justice. Examinations test mostly textbook
based knowledge. The important skills and abilities, higher order thinking skills like,
problem solving, reasoning, creative thinking and judgment, etc. are not tested. Several
committees and commissions including NCF (2005) reported about the growing problems
of psychological pressure that children and their parents feel during examination. All
efforts in curriculum construction and renewal come to an end if it is not engaged with
evaluation and examination. A good evaluation system should become an integral part of
learning process and benefit both the learners and all stakeholders of educational system
by giving credible feedback. The NCF (2005) recommends five guiding principles for
curriculum construction. They are:
 connecting knowledge to life outside the school
 ensuring that learning is shifted away from rote methods,
 enriching the curriculum to provide for overall development of children rather
than remain textbook centric,
 making examinations more flexible and integrated into classroom life and,
 nurturing an over-riding identity informed by caring concerns within the
democratic polity of the country.
These can also be the guiding principles for the evaluation process. The purpose of this
article is to describe the conceptual underpinnings of constructivist learning along with its
variations and implications for classroom evaluation.

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2.0 Learning Theories and Evaluation
Constructivist evaluation is based on constructivist learning theory. Learning theories are
indispensable for effective and pedagogically meaningful evaluation practices. Hence, an
effective evaluation process is supposed to take into account the theoretical bases in
which it is grounded. There have been several classes of theories with regard to learning
that formed the basis for the evaluation process. Mayer (1992) has shown how three
views of learning have emerged during the past 100 years of research on learning. They
are (i) learning as response strengthening (ii) learning as knowledge acquisition and (iii)
learning as knowledge construction.

2.1 Learning as response strengthening


According to this view, learning occurs when learner strengthens or weakens an
association between a stimulus and a response. This view was developed in the first half
of 20th century and was based largely on the study of animal learning in artificial
laboratory settings. The role of learner is to passively receive rewards and punishments,
whereas the role of instructor/teacher is to administer rewards and punishments, such as
drill and practice. The teacher‟s role is to create environments where the learner is
repeatedly cued to give a simple response, which is immediately followed by a feedback.

2.2 Learning as knowledge acquisition


Learning as knowledge acquisition is based on the idea that learning occurs when a
learner places new information in long-term memory. This view was developed in 1950s,
1960s and 1970s and was based largely on the study of human learning in artificial
laboratory settings. The role of the learner is to passively acquire information, and the
teacher‟s job is to present information, such as in textbooks and lectures. According to
this view, information is a commodity that can be transmitted directly from teacher to
learner. The teacher‟s role is to create environments in which the learner is exposed to
large amount of information through textbooks, lectures and computer based multimedia
programmes.

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2.3 Learning as knowledge construction
The third view, learning as knowledge construction, is based on the idea that learning
occurs when a leaner actively constructs a knowledge representation in working memory.
This view was emerged in 1980s and 1990s and was based largely on the study of human
learning in increasingly realistic settings. According to this view, the learner is a sense
maker, whereas the teacher is a cognitive guide or facilitator who provides guidance and
modeling on authentic academic tasks. The teacher‟s role is to create environments in
which the learner interacts meaningfully with academic material, including fostering the
learner‟s processes of selecting, organizing and integrating information.

3.0 Constructivist Evaluation


Guba and Lincoln (1989) defined four phases of evaluation. The first phase is defined as
measurement goal-driven to determine whether students had „mastered‟ the content of the
various courses or subjects to which they were exposed. The second phase is defined as
description goal-driven. It is an evaluation approach that determines effectiveness in the
attainment of program objectives with careful advance planning, student performance, or
other appropriate results provide feedback for diagnosing deficiencies and improving
programs. The third phase is defined as judgment goal-driven in which evaluation was
characterized by the efforts to reach judgments, and in which the evaluator assumed the
role of judge, while retaining the earlier technical and descriptive functions. The fourth
phase is based on authentic assessments and context-based evaluations. This phase
develops a constructivist approach to evaluation and assessment. Freedman (1998)
described three constructs regarding constructivist evaluation and its implications for the
assessment environment. They are:
 Learning is an active process
 The learner has prior knowledge
 The learner takes responsibility for their own learning

Broadly, there could be two ways in which learners can be evaluated in a constructivist
learning environment. They are:

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Content evaluation: This involves how well students are able to function within a content
domain, and whether they could use the tools and understandings of the domain to solve
problems within that domain. For example, if students are involved in an authentic task,
then evaluation would assess whether they successfully completed that task or not.

Process evaluation: This involves how well students reflect on the processes whereby
they came to their conclusions and document this process. According to Jonassen (1991),
evaluating how learners go about constructing their knowledge is more important than the
resulting product, suggesting that evaluative procedures must become an integral part of
the instructional process. Jonassen also feels that goal free evaluation could be an
important part of constructivist evaluation, since that would allow the evaluator to be
unbiased by the goals of instruction.

4.0 Constructivist Assessment Environment


In the constructivist assessment environment teachers takes the role of facilitator.
According to Freedman (1998), the assessment environment has two major subdivision.
They are:
 What defines the assessment environment and
 What influences the assessment environment

4.1 Defining assessment environment


The defining elements of assessment environment are:
 Teacher beliefs
 Teacher practices and
 Student engagement

4.1.1 Teacher beliefs


Three beliefs are found that guide the teacher in a constructivist assessment environment.
They are:
1. Teachers need to change in order to assess students to meet the changing needs of
students. They have to change their perspectives. They have to do this by

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exploring new avenues in order to incorporate a wide variety of assessment
strategies. In order for change to occur teacher needs to accept it.
2. Doing and thinking is more important than being able to recite facts. It creates
interests and brings motivation. Teachers should believe that developing skills
and attitude is more important than mere assessing memorization of facts.
3. Students can be responsible for their own assessment and learning. They have to
be offered an opportunity and environment where they will feel safe and comfort
to take on responsibilities.

4.1.2 Teacher practices


In addition to beliefs, teachers follow a number of practices that add breath to the
assessment environment. They are:
1. Teachers should not feel restricted to text-embedded assessments. They should
change and modify existing assessment based on perceived students‟ needs and
abilities, personal goals and government policies.
2. Teachers should use students input to design and modify assessments. When
student inputs are accepted, they feel responsibility of presenting their opinions,
designing their own assessments and selecting the criteria for assessment
including judgement.
3. Teachers should use variety of questioning strategies to assess students‟ prior
knowledge. Response to questions can reveal what students already know and
what their beliefs are.
4. Teachers should use a variety of inquiries. It increases understanding and
reasoning abilities. Inquiries include observation, accommodation, validation and
reflection.

4.1.3 Student engagement


Students have an active role in constructivist assessment environment because their
minds are engaged. They are not empty vessels. They question themselves, with their
peers, their teachers on the new knowledge and try to incorporate them into their existing

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mental structure. Teachers can encourage students to involve in the assessment
environment in various ways. They are:
1. Teachers should encourage students in directing their own assessment and
learning.
2. Teachers should involve students in decision making process of judgement and
grading. Sometimes their involvement could be direct and sometimes it is
indirect.
3. The process of learning does not shut down during assessment (Brooks and
Brooks, 1993). So, teachers should engage students in learning in constructivist
assessment environment. Teachers can use relevant local issues to draw students
into the learning process.
4. Students should be intrinsically motivated by different kinds of assessment. These
are (a) goal-oriented (b) student self-directed or (c) entertaining. The one that
motivates students is performance-based assessment.

All of the assessment in constructivist environment involves group work. Students


interact with each other in all circumstances including during assessments (Zahorik,
1995). So, assessment is not an after thought but an integral component of classroom
environment. NCF (2005) argued to integrate examination with classroom life.
Assessment environment is one where there is active learning in a social context.

4.2 Influences on the assessment environment


Influences on the assessment environment are both internal and external. Internal
influences include the daily interactions of the students and teachers within the context of
classroom instruction. Internal influence on the assessment environment is the constant
curiosity of the teachers to find out a better solution to a given problem of assessment.
Networking with student community, peer teachers and professionals is a source of
generating new ideas to solve assessment problems. They should seek information from
various sources such as, interviews with students, peer teachers, professionals, attending
workshops, reviewing literature, etc. External influences come from higher authorities
such as district education authorities, SCERTs, CBSE, NCERT and other examination

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bodies. Pressure is applied from a variety of sources regarding coverage issue. They are
parents, communities, examination bodies such as district boards, state boards, CBSE,
etc. Externally constructed national standardized tests are not usually relevant to
student’s everyday learning. Consequently, their use is often forced (Freedman, 1998).
Teacher is compelled to cover the courses limiting the scope of developing higher order
thinking skills (HOTS).

4.3 Variety of Assessment Environment


Teachers use a variety of assessments to make students grading. Students are given
multiple opportunities to show their competencies. Variety may be in terms of visuals,
performing, writing, talking, designing, and presenting knowledge as individuals and in
groups. Variety also means that grades are a profile of many areas of competence which
may include: concepts, inquiry, application, creativity, attitude and world view. Variety
also includes demonstration, explanation, writing a script, drawing cartoons, inquiry,
observation, using a rubric, making a checklist, drawings, skits, concept mapping, role
play, projects, collage, logbook, explorations, experiments, etc.

Assessment of students‟ knowledge should be application oriented. It should include


higher order thinking skills (HOTS) and problem-solving. Going beyond recall such as,
comparison, analysis and evaluation is essential if students are going to accommodate
information into new mental structures. Variety should also include social configuration
of assessment. Students like to work in group. They enjoy interaction. This can be
possible through peer assessment and collaborative assessment. Collaborative assessment
through project work, presentation and performances allows students to exercise their
strength and receive support for their weaknesses. The knowledge gained through
collaborative assessment is more than that expected from an individual. While working in
group they should come to a consensus of how they could interpret, look or observe an
event, a problem or a phenomenon.

5.0 Constructivist evaluation process

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An instructional environment needs to be assessment-centred, and teaching and
assessment need to be “constructively aligned” with the curriculum objectives. What is
already known influences what can be learnt next. A teacher needs to pay attention to
what learners bring to the learning environment, including cultural knowledge and
preferred ways of learning. Teacher as facilitator of knowledge construction should plan
activities that will provide appropriate cognitive challenges to the learners so that their
existing knowledge can actually be revealed. Some of the methodologies of evaluation in
a constructivist environment are described below.

5.1 Formative evaluation


Most often, summative assessment has been the only assessment provided in a
programme. Students complete a unit of study, submit their assignments, and move on to
a new and different unit with the feedback from the assignment which is becoming
redundant in terms of their learning. So far active learning is concerned, the challenge for
teacher is to find ways to provide continuous assessment throughout the programme. For
this, formative assessment should be undertaken during the programme. The learner can
use the formative feedback to revise and correct learning gaps and misconceptions. The
teacher will be able to use the results of formative assessment to adjust content and
activities to better meet the learning needs of the learners.

5.2 Self-evaluation
According to Glasersfeld (1995), each individual construct meaning, knowledge and
conceptual structures differently. So the teachers should be cognizant that students may
view curricula, textbooks differently than they do. Accordingly, teachers should not
attempt to transfer conceptual knowledge to students through words. Instead, they should
be concerned with how learners understand the process of knowing and how they justify
their beliefs. If the constructivism provides the learners with lots of opportunities to make
meaning, the evaluation also should be made by the learners themselves. Through self-
evaluation, each learner can evaluate his or her process of meaning making. Teacher
should be a facilitator and should ask thought provoking and challenging questions to
refine and fix the students‟ position.

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Since the learning is individualistic in constructivism, self-evaluation provides a strong
element both for teachers and students. Each and every learner constructs knowledge
based on their previous knowledge. Writing the reflective statements will increase the
authenticity of self-evaluation because teachers can verify it. Students develop greater
understanding of their particular learning style when they self-evaluate and reflect on the
evidence they have selected to demonstrate their competence. Ability to self-assess will
provide a constructive feedback to learners and this is not only an assessment process but
also a learning process.

5.3 Peer evaluation


Here, students work in pairs, threes, or more formal learning-sets to read each other‟s
work and to give feedback against the marking criteria. They also explain what feedback
they have received and discuss how they will apply it in their next activity. Peers can use
checklists, rubrics or give a written response to peer work.

5.4 Collaborative evaluation


Collaborative assessment is an effective way to help students take more responsibility for
judging the quality of their own learning efforts. Students like to work in group. They
enjoy interaction. Collaborative assessment through project work, presentation and
performances allows students to exercise their strength and receive support for their
weaknesses. The group should take joint responsibility for providing feedback on the
quality of the work. Learners can share ideas which will be helpful to their peers and
work on improving their assignments before final submission. The knowledge gained
through collaborative assessment is more than that expected from an individual. While
working in group they come to a consensus of how they could interpret, look or observe
an event, a problem or a phenomenon. It also improves their communication and
planning skills.

5.5 Portfolio evaluation

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In a constructivist classroom, teachers can effectively use portfolio assessment. Ongoing
assessment could document a learner‟s progress through the portfolio mode (NCF-2005).
Portfolio assessment can be explained as a purposeful, multifaceted process of collecting
data of children‟s growth, progress, and effort over time. It is a reflective document rather
than a simple list of student‟s teaching and learning experiences. It will reflect the
competencies that the student is required to demonstrate in the course or module.

There are several criteria that should keep in mind while using portfolio assessment. The
portfolio must:
 be clearly linked with instructional objectives. If the two are not connected, the
portfolio is just an accumulation of work with little assessment value or future
instructional value.
 be an ongoing assessment system that allows teachers to observe the continuous,
dynamic movement of children‟s growth. Teachers must avoid discontinuous or
static methods of assessing children‟s skills and abilities.
 avoid becoming a teacher-made document. To analyze growth and development,
both children and their families must have a voice in inclusion of items.
 be performance based; emphasize purposeful learning; be ongoing in all cultural
contexts of school, home, and community; and celebrate, support, and encourage
a child‟s development and learning.

Effective learning requires meaningful, open-ended, and challenging problems for the
learner to solve. In portfolio assessment teachers‟ role is vital as a facilitator. Teacher
should assess, evaluate, manage, organize, and use information for problem-solving,
decision making, and critical thinking.

All knowledge is socially constructed and social interaction plays a pivotal role in
learning. Hence, parents and community members need to understand portfolio
assessment. It provides a new perspective on learning for both teachers and students.
Students, principals, teachers, and parents should work together to make portfolio
assessment much more successful. If the parents are provided with an opportunity to

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see students‟ challenging and engaging work, they will get information about how their
children are developing.

6.0 Conclusion
Indian school board exams are largely inappropriate for the „knowledge society‟ of the
21st century and its need for innovative problem-solvers (NCERT, 2008). If learning
takes place through interactions with the environment around, then evaluation should be
carried out in a meaningful context that is relevant to the students and the society. A good
evaluation system should be an integral part of the learning process. It should be
beneficial for students, teachers and the society. There is a growing need to understand
philosophy, pedagogy and teacher practices in order to implement constructivist
evaluation process.

Teacher education institutions have several obstacles to overcome before accomplishing


the goal of constructivist evaluation practices including administrative apathy, centralised
curriculum, inadequate literature, a lack of consensus on methods of evaluation,
conditions that require classroom management at the expense of academic instruction,
etc. National bodies like NCERT, NCTE, etc. must make a long-term commitment to
provide inservice training, involve experienced teachers in the selection of instructional
materials and testing programs and appoint a committee to guide curriculum
development. Inservice training that helps teachers to remodel their lesson plans and
integrate the elements of evaluation, should be provided on a contionous basis. Adequate
literature should be developed on the construcivist evaluation practices for teacher
preparation both through face-to-face and distance mode.

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