As we discussed in class last week, chapter 1 of “Making Classroom Assessment Work” by Anne Davies, starts out with discussing the differences between assessment and evaluation. I found this helpful because it can be misinterpreted a lot, especially for me as a pre-service teacher as I don’t have a lot of experience with assessment or evaluation. (Or I don’t feel like I do.) What I got from the first chapter is that assessment is so crucial in our classrooms and it is something that we should be doing constantly. “Assessment for learning in used to collect information that will inform the teacher’s next teaching steps and the student’s next learning steps.” (Davies, 2)
If we aren’t assessing our students constantly, how we will know where they stand? A student can tell us that they understand and are ready to move on, but without evidence of their learning, we need to be careful not to move ahead without knowing where they are in the learning process. However, evaluating the students too early may cause a roadblock in their learning. “…If we evaluate too early, we limit descriptive feedback and risk interrupting the learning. When we access during the learning and evaluate at the end of the learning, we give students time to practice and improve before we judge the evident.” (Davies, 3) If we evaluate a student too early on without knowing ahead of time where they stand, that is when the entire class does poorly on evaluations. If you are actively assessing your students prior to your evaluation then it will help you to see where and when students need more help and more practice in a particular area without moving on too quickly. It will also hopefully diminish the chance of your students not understanding the content resulting in a whole class failure, which in my opinion reflects the teacher’s teaching more than the learner’s learning.
So how do we as educators ensure our student is learning? Davies suggests actively involving your students in their own learning. For example, engaging your class in a discussion about what is expected from them will clarify any uncertainties and encourage sharing their questions and answers with each other. “When teachers talk about what is to be learned and why it is relevant to students’ lives…students begin to learn to understand what needs to be learned, and they have a chance to prepare to learn”. (Davies, 5) This gives the students a feeling of ownership and would maybe be more inclined to cater to their specific interests therefore making them more interested in their assignment if they have a say in what the assignment should look like.
Davies also points out in this chapter how important self-assessment is. It again is including your students in taking their learning into their own hands. “Self-assessment gives learners the opportunity to think about their thinking and their learning… called metacognition” (Davies, 11) She goes on to point out, “Students who are able to self-assess…are better able to monitor their own learning process.” (11) Allowing your students to assess themselves may lead to greater investment in their learning if they know they have to prove to themselves other than solely just the teacher. I think self-assessment is so important in our classrooms, but I also think that you need to be careful how you implement it. When I was in school and had to self-assess, I would always be nervous to give myself what grade I actually thought I deserved, I would always give myself the grade that the teacher would have given me if they were the ones solely assessing me. Reflecting on this now in my education journey, I was just trying to fit into the perfect student mould as I had formed in my head. As a result, I think it is important to let your students know they can give themselves the honest grade they think they deserve, as long as they have evidence to back it up. I would have been grateful to have a rubric or something to follow so I could have just checked off what I thought I was doing correctly instead of just giving myself the same grade I was used too. It is also important how you allow your students to self-assess.
As some of my classmates pointed out in our discussion during class, making your students call out their grade publicly in front of the entire class is going to make the students embarrassed. I would never give myself full marks in front of my entire class. Davies discusses on page 8 about perhaps having a private journal where you review your work privately, not publicly. Private writing may make your students more honest with themselves, therefore with you. Having them write down their thoughts on what they did well, but also things that they felt they need to work on in a private journal entry will help you as a teacher get a better understanding of where your student stands. They will most likely feel more comfortable talking about things they thought they did well at and also discussing things that they felt they needed help with or perhaps struggled with. And guess what- this is also a form of assessment for you as a teacher!! Providing your students with constructive and descriptive feedback will help them move forward with their learning.
Chapter 2 discusses building the foundation for assessment. On page 16, she talks about how crucial mistakes are for learning. I really appreciated that she included this because as a pre-service teacher, you won’t know what works for you and your students until you try! And with that, there are bound to be mistakes and failures. Davies puts it into a simple and informative sentence: “Learning involves taking risks and making mistakes, and then doing things differently as a result.” (16) Sometimes teachers are seen as people who are “higher” or “all-knowing” but it is important to let your students know that mistakes are okay and you will learn from them; it is a part of the process. “When teachers model making mistakes and fixing them, students learn to value their own mistakes as a source of information for their learning, and as feedback indicating what they need to do differently”. (Davies, 16) It is so important to let your students know that sometimes you don’t have all the answers. My grandfather was a teacher for 35 years and retired in 1984. Obviously so much in the education world has changed, but he recently gave me the advice to admit to your students when you don’t know the answer. We are humans, and if we don’t know the answer, promise to find the answer for them and follow through with it. This will build trust with your students. This part of teaching will never change.
Try to show your students that feedback is GOOD. They shouldn’t feel like failures if their work comes back with comments, this is meant for them to use and take with them so they can be even more successful in the future. Always be positive. As much work as it is for teachers, try to be so specific in your feedback. If there is tons of marks and lines on your paper but you don’t know what you need to work on or why those marks are on it, what use is that? I have a teacher now who will always hand back our assignment with sentences highlighted, and I don’t know what that means. There are also sometimes different colours highlighted in my peers work and we are all confused on if those colours mean anything. Are those highlighted sentences good? Are they bad? It is very confusing and I have no idea what it means or what I have to work on to improve my work.
To promote success in your students’ work, you should always try to show examples and explain what is expected of them in more than one way. All students are different learners, and I will not understand an assignment if I just read the description. I need to see and feel and look at what is expected of me. With so much importance on technology it is so easy to incorporate different ways of explaining of what is expected to your students. Davies suggests bringing in guests who are skilled in that area, watching videos or showing examples of past works. (20)
One thing that stood out to me in this chapter was “By not helping students to picture success, we jeopardize their learning.” (Davies, 20) It is not fair for us to expect our students to understand our expectations by just telling them what to do. I do not understand things by just reading, as I said before, so if we are setting out students up for failure if we don’t clarify out expectations.
In creating a classroom environment, it is important to integrate communication with the parents. This can be a really confusing part especially as a new teacher, because it is really tough talking to parents about their most prized possessions – their children. They created and birthed these people; they do not want to hear that they are not the most perfect angels on the planet. The only way of learning to do this will be by experience and help from other teachers. In one of our other ECS classes, our professor Katia explained an effective way she had found by communicating to parents. She said what she would sometimes do is call the parents ahead and let them know you are excited to have their child in your class and looking forward to your year together. I would definitely try to do this maybe even with a letter or email to let them know who you are and that you want to build a relationship with them. This is especially helpful for the future when you have to make those dreaded phone calls home to those same parents to tell them that their child is not completing assignments or acting out in class. Because you had already established a positive communication line this may make it easier on you in those difficult situation.
Davies talks about inviting parents and students to your classroom before the school year starts on page 21. I think this would be a great way to get to know each other, especially if it is your first year teaching. She also describes how you can set out learning goals together with your students, that way if your student is struggling to complete them then you and their parent already know what is expected and take more ownership in being involved. However, I am not tonally sure I am convinced that this will work in a secondary classroom because I have tried to do this in an English class when I was in grade 12 and it was not successful, in my experience. It never got brought up until parent-teacher interviews when we would fill out what we thought out progress was the day before the interviews and then during the interview we would talk about it to our parents and my teacher would just let me do the talking and he would agree or disagree. Perhaps a different approach would be more effective, but in my experience it didn’t apply to me.
Relationships are so important when you are a teacher with everyone – other teachers, students, parents, etc. Finding out as much information as you can about your students will be so helpful because as Davies points out, if you know your student has a specific talent then perhaps you can tailor their learning to that interest or hobby. Having strong relationships with your parents will make the lines of communication easier.
That transitions into chapter 11, which is all about learning with other professionals is integral to your continued growth as a teacher. One aspect of education that is evident to me throughout my educational experiences as a student and as a pre-service teacher is that keeping up to date with new technologies and ideas is crucial. If you aren’t willing to continue your learning than much of your teaching will eventually become unreliable and eventually somewhat useless. Davies suggests creating a group with fellow educators to help each other learn with exchanging their ideas and opinions. This would be a great way to encourage learning with colleagues. Although I do think that this could be difficult to organize because there are so many aspects to life – your actual classroom with marking and planning, children, sports, activities, just life in general. Professional Learning Communities is something I would have to do more research about, but this is a great way to find time to work with other teachers on my staff because it outlines exactly how teacher can work together. This would especially be so helpful in the English department! With that being said, part of being an educator is committing to be a life long learner who is always willing to collaborate and learn new aspects of the career.