Saturday, March 2, 2013

Assessing for learning

Cartoon is from Tiger by Bud Blake, not sure of original strip.

I recently co-planned and co-taught part of a unit in the senior MYP humanities course. We spent hours on planning and scaffolding the learning and summative assessment. As part of the process it was joked that I also need to be part of the marking of the comparative essay the students were being taught how to do, I replied that it was something I would be interested in doing.

Last week I had the opportunity to moderate the essays with the other teachers to prepare for marking of the rest of the class. This gave me an insight into the how moderation works in an authentic setting. We read through two essays individually, then scored them against the rubric. We then discussed why we awarded the different points to the essays. Armed with this information, we took 20 essays each to mark over the weekend.

Most people would think I was a nutter for volunteering to mark essays over the weekend, however I found it to be one of the most insightful activities I could do as a teacher librarian. It enabled me to see first hand the information literacy skill set of this year group and where the weaknesses were.

We had spent quite a lot of time during the unit teaching and scaffolding how to use Easybib, to create in text citations, to access and search the databases Questia and ABC-Clio, to format quotations properly in text and how to use evidence to support an argument or statement. The students had a number of in school blocks to research, plan and write their comparative essays.

There were 60 students over 4 classes in total, and we were active in examining work as it it progressed and helping individual students in class time. However, we were unable to individually help every student due to time restraints.

Marking the essays has reminded me that assumptions that cannot be made about how much learning is taking place as a result of specific teaching. These classes had been explicitly taught how to do all of the above skills in an authentic setting over a period of time, with opportunity to practice, yet, after marking their work, I found there were varying degrees of successful application in their essays. 

Interestingly, when examining their bibliographies it was evident some students chose not (or forgot) to use the citation maker which would have given them a well formatted bibliography. Many also chose not to use the database resources which were so appropriate for their topic, particularly as they had to present authoritive evidence to support their arguments.

Intext citation is a difficult skill and one which takes years to master with repeated practice and applications in different settings. Many students had a go at this, and most did alright considering their lack of experience. By marking the essays I am now able to pinpoint where some of the misunderstandings occur, and teach specifically to these problems.

Other areas we found that needed work was the students ability to write an academic essay. In many, or almost all of the cases, the students reverted to narrative to tell of their learning. Was this due to lack of practice, lack of exposure to non fiction style writing such as journals, newspapers, documentaries  or is it due to their age (15yrs)?. They also had limited vocabulary, and appeared to not use a thesaurus as part of their writing toolkit.

An interesting part of this assessment process was that a deadline had been set, the students had handed their work in and it was way below expectations. The teachers and I met again to discuss the lower than expected standard, reflecting on why it may have been the case. We concluded that the students had not been given enough time to think and make connections regarding comparisons they needed to make, they had had too many assessments due at the same time, decreasing the time they could have spent on the project, and, they actually did not know how to complete the task we had set for them.

We then again taught them how to create a comparative essay using evidence and how to write an academic paper without narrative style language. They could then use their first essay to reflect on how they did and improve where required. We also gave them another 2 weeks if they chose to modify and improve their essay.  The results were significantly better even though there were still a number of weaknesses. We now know where to start from.

There were so many elements of learning for me doing this exercise however, my main reflection on this is that I need to be part of the planning, collaborating AND assessment process more often to be able to identify the weaknesses of the students so that we as a team can direct our teaching. I also acknowledge that there was a lot of trust involved in being able to hand over the students work to me for marking, and there has been a lot of work building up to this opportunity. I am grateful for the teachers who trusted me enough to allow me to be part of the team.


roy bec bay tys clements said...

I thoroughly enjoyed reading your reflections on the moderation process. It is something we are further exploring in our PYP Maths and English Curriculum Groups at the moment. We hope to set up an online resource to support teachers.
Keep the posts coming.

Gary Green said...

Hi Dianne

This is wonderful post.

It accentuates the importance of the collaborative process of which assessment is a key component.

Assessment drives instruction is the irrefutable reality we work in. That's why I often ask for the assessment rubric in advance before I bring something to the table. I also ask as one of the initial questions in the planning process, 'what is the type of thinking you want out of this" which opens up the arc of learning and allows me to think about how I can make a positive pedagogical contribution to the students and teacher.
In essence, 'becoming one of them' in terms of the marking elevates your status, credibility and your influence in learning for the next time.

This is a fine case of librarian assisting in leading learning rather than being a more passive support role.