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Most Important Learning Jeremiah Paul Connell EDU 530 w. Dr. Heather Sadlier University of New England Spring 2009


After reading Rick Stiggins An Introduction to Student-Involved Assessment for Learning, an assortment of journal articles on assessment and grading, and discussing assessment-related issues with my classmates, I would without hesitation say that the most important learning Ive obtained from this class is that it is paramount to use a variety of assessment methods in the classroom. Selected response quizzes or tests, essays, performance assessments, and personal communication (Stiggins), as well as culminating projects and work portfolios (McTighe & OConnor) can all be used at different times; a teacher should pick whatever method is most congruent with the learning styles of the kids he or she is working with, the lesson or units learning goals, and whats going to be done with the assessment information. Diagnostic assessment or pre-assessment (McTighe & OConnor), formative assessments, and summative assessments (Stiggins), all have their place. There is assessment for learning (formative), and there is assessment of learning (summative). When conducting formative assessments, it is important to collect relevant data that you can act on, and to collect enough for a good sample data that will be a fair representation of what you are trying to assess. A good teacher in my opinion- should have the listening skills and the intuitive and empathic wherewithal necessary to assess student affect and to steer his or her teaching towards the instructional needs of different student groups and individual learners. That being said, information about student performance must be documented and must be appropriately managed, stored, and communicated effectively. You dont have to keep a written record of every single word uttered in your classroom, but when it comes time to report on a students performance at an I.E.P. meeting, a teacher should have more than just feelings and anecdotes to offer; he or she needs to have data and evidence. A good teacher should be flexible and be able to change direction on the fly based on students responses and reactions, but should be in the habit of documenting student responses even with informal assessments- so that he or she can later explain why he or she made that instructional change in direction. Self-assessments are helpful in getting kids to become aware of and take charge of their own learning. Students assessment of their own progress affects how they view themselves and


their chances for academic success. This idea brings me to the second most important idea learned in this class: that we must do what we can to encourage student feelings of self-efficacy and foster the development of an internal locus of control. We want kids to feel like they can succeed so that they will try to succeed. Early on in An Introduction to Student-Involved Assessment for Learning Stiggins tells us: students decide how high to aim based on their sense of the probability that they will succeed. No single decision exerts such influence on student success (Stiggins, p.19). We want our assessments to be pertinent to the learning that were trying to assess and we want them to be do-able. If students feel bored, if they arent engaged, and if they dont want to try, the assessment is bound to lack validity. What we ask them to do for assessment purposes needs to be reasonable; for if the way they are asked to demonstrate knowledge is too cumbersome, they will abandon the task (Tovani). Just as we teachers need multiple strategies for assessment, students need multiple strategies to learn. We want to encourage student awareness of the learning process so that when a kid encounters an obstacle, he or she doesnt come to a full stop, become overly frustrated, and give up. Carol Ann Tomlinson tells us that real learners understand how learning works and that they understand how to capitalize on their learning strengths and how to compensate for their weaknesses. The third most important learning Ive garnered from this class has to do with grading, and is linked to the other two most important items listed above. Old-fashioned grading systems (i.e. A, B, C, D, F) may be oversimplified and outmoded, but some parents and some systems dont want details or shades of gray when it comes to student assessment; they want a quick and easy to understand answer. High stakes summative assessments are problematic and often not the best window into student learning, but one of the reasons that theyve become popular is that fill-in-the-bubble answer sheets can be graded by a computer, while creating differentiated tests takes time. Individually tailoring anything creates a better result for the individual, but is much more time and labor intensive than a mass-production, factory-type model. Using a variety of assessment methods helps to combat problems associated with a one size fits all assessment/educational mode. Lifelines such as dropping the lowest grade or

MOST IMPORTANT LEARNING PAPER allowing someone to re-take an exam can ameliorate some of the unwieldy nature of a traditional, summative assessment-heavy, environment.

Douglass Reeves makes a great point when he reminds us that music teachers
and athletic coaches routinely provide abundant feedback to students and only occasionally associate a grade with the feedback. The advice and direction that you give students is valuable in and of itself; kids are capable of understanding that feedback doesnt have to have a letter grade attached to it to be meaningful. Outlining learning goals in student-friendly language and using well-developed rubrics are critical grading practices. Peer assessment and exemplars of work at different levels can help students identify where they are along the journey to a learning goal. The grades that a student gets should correspond to learning and showing and sharing that increase in knowledge, skill, and understanding. Getting a good mark should not be about simply collecting points and doing what youre told.

Not long from now, Ill be teaching. I plan on using a variety of means of nding out
how much learning has occurred in my classroom. I am going to offer students choices about how they demonstrate knowledge. I shall endeavor to create a positive learning environment for a variety of reasons. We know that negative emotions can

impede learning and that the brain does not function at its best or at its highest level in a threatening environment (Richardson, Morgan, and Fleener p. 448). We know that students are more likely to come forward with their ideas in a safe, fearless learning (Izen) type atmosphere. I want my students to have sufficient confidence to try for academic success and to deem it worthwhile. Lastly, I want grading in my classroom to be about constructive and individualized feedback. I probably will have to assign letter grades at the end of the term or school year, but Id like my students to value and appreciate the incremental steps they take as they improve their work over the course of the semesters they spend with me.


Izen, S. (1999). Fearless learning. Mathematics Teacher. 92(9), 756-757.

McTighe, J. & OConnor, K. (2005). Seven practices for effective learning. Educational Leadership. 63(3), 10-17. Reeves, D. B. (2008). Effective Grading Practices. Educational Leadership. Volume 65 Number 5, pages 85-87. Richardson, J., Morgan, R., & Fleener, C. (2006). Reading to Learn in the Content Areas. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

Stiggins, R. (2007). An introduction to student-involved assessment for learning. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall. Tomlinson, C.A. (2008). The goals of differentiation. Educational Leadership. Volume 66 Number 3, pages 26-30. Tovani, Cris. (2004). Do I really have to teach reading? Portland, Maine: Stenhouse Publishers.