Saturday, August 29, 2015

Assessment for Learning

I love learning. In fact, some of my earliest memories include playing school with my sisters. To this day, I love going to school and learning how and why things work or why people behave the way they do or about other cultures and traditions around the world. I simply have a thirst for learning new things.

Why? Heidi Grant Halvorson1 (and others) says that students respond in one of three ways when given a school related task.  This response is called a “goal orientation” which seeks to answer the question, “Why am I doing this?”  The three general types of goal orientation are:

1)  Learning Orientation. “To get better”
2)  Performance/Ego Orientation. “To prove ability” or “To hide perceived lack of ability”
3) Task Completion Orientation. “To get it done and get a grade”

I clearly have a learning orientation. 

But, what does this have to do with assessment?

In her book, Seven Strategies of Assessment for Learning, Jan Chapppuis explains the impact of goal orientations on student motivation. Her research shows that students are prevented from learning by many of the assessment practices used in today’s classrooms.

She says that students with a learning goal orientation believe that effort leads to success. We are motivated by mastery and are quick to try another strategy when faced with failure. We dig in and believe that when we try harder…we can achieve. It is helpful for students with a learning orientation to have an understanding of what success looks like.

Students with a performance/ego orientation will focus on protecting their self-worth by seeking public recognition for performing at a higher level. They seek to hide a perceived lack of ability and want to do those things to achieve success that require little effort. They avoid effort based strategies due to a fear of failure and will often ask, “How do I get an A?” or are driven by not wanting to appear lacking.2

Students with a task completion orientation will focus on the completion of assignments. They focus on completion rather than quality and will focus on points rather than understanding. They don’t really care who does the work as long as it is turned in. They are quick to ask “How much is this worth?”

Several traditional grading practices can actually inhibit student learning. When we award points for completion we send the wrong message to students about the purpose of the assignment which is to attain learning. When we don’t allow sufficient time to practice before assigning a grade on practice work we distort achievement.  Students typically improve with practice. Including scores on practice work in the final grade can cause students to give up when they realize that they cannot overcome the damage to their grade.

What can we do to help develop a culture of learning in our classrooms? Chappuis suggests that we

  • Communicate to our students that learning is the goal of education. We must clearly identify our learning targets so that students know what is expected.
  • Help students understand that learning is a progression and mistakes are a way to learn.
  •  Provide penalty-free feedback during the learning to aid with student improvement.
  • Use feedback from assessments to know our students’ strengths and weaknesses to guide instruction.
  • Use assessment practices that help students understand themselves as learners.
I agree with Jan Chappuis. “The question in a learning culture is not “How can I improve my grade?” but “What do I need to do to master this?” In such a classroom culture, learning happens first and grades follow.

1Halvorson, Heidi Grant. Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals. New York, N.Y.: Hudson Street, 2011. Print.

2Chappuis, Jan. Seven Strategies of Assessment for Learning. Pearson, 2015. Print.