Cynthia Nilsson~ Grade 9 Math/Science Pre-service teacher
Werklund School of Education
As a graduating student from the Werklund School of Education, experiencing my final practicum
experience at Connect Charter, one of my professional goals was to focus on assessment for learning in a real and meaningful way, rather than only assessment of learning. With the support and mentorship of Louis Cheng, I was able to gain experience in implementing assessment for learning in a Grade 9 Math/Science class, by combining feedback loops with outcomes based assessment.
The use of a system of feedback loops has been particularly effective throughout a long term Virtual Science Fair assignment. The students chose topics based on individual interest, crafted questions (research or experimental), and designed research and experimental methodologies in order to test and answer those questions. Since the work involved is substantial, it was important for students to be able to gain detailed feedback at multiple stages – assessment for learning – in order to benefit from the project. Therefore, the project was assigned deadlines for each step (Proposal, Research, Methodology, Data and Analysis), and received input from instructors at each stage so that critique and suggestions could be incorporated before proceeding with the project. This formal plan for formative feedback helped students to keep their work on schedule and to gain low-pressure assessment so that they know how to be as successful as possible with the final work. I offered interactive comments on student work as they added information to their projects, which were shared with me via Google docs. I this way the students were able to see and implement advice with very quick turnaround for small details, and keep track of larger suggestions or ideas over the long term. My experience with this method has demonstrated that it is a very powerful tool to help students fine tune their scientific thinking, and it helps make a major assignment manageable in small portions, so that students do not feel the stakes are unreasonably high. However, the process of offering detailed feedback at multiple stages is very time consuming, which means it must be balanced with other options for quick assessment of other skills in the meantime.
By assessing students based on skills or specific outcomes rather than tasks, it also helps to guide feedback, both in the formal ongoing system described above and on smaller tasks. Rather than grading an entire math exam with a total, for example, the exam is broken down based on which skills it requires the students to demonstrate. I have been pleased with the way that this method of assessment allows students to identify and target those skills which challenge them, and in math especially it seems to help students avoid a sense of learned helplessness – if they performed poorly on a test, it does not mean they are ‘bad at math’ but that one or two of the relevant skills need more focus. When a student demonstrates improvement on a skill, the newest mark carries the highest weight in their total scores, reflecting the importance of actually learning and developing over time.
Using these tools has given me a strong foundation in modes of practicing assessment for learning – assessment practices which are of use not only for reporting and recording but also for helping students to develop and practice their metacognition as well as their disciplinary knowledge.