Monday, February 15, 2016

Where are we going?

When we ask students to undertake a task - whether it is big or small, an activity in one lesson or a unit over a number of weeks, we need to assess to see if learning has occurred both for our own learning and that of the students.

We need to examine what the purpose of the assessment is ...

Is it to see how well the student has learned what you have used their time to try to teach them?
Is it to reflect on the effectiveness of teaching methods you used?
Is it to see what the students already know?
Is it to find out if you are heading in the direction you think you are?

There are three forms of assessment according to John Hattie - diagnostic (or pre-assessment), formative and summative.

Diagnostic is to find out where the students are in their learning before you even begin to teach them. It is really important step that is sometimes overlooked due to time, or more dangerously, due to assumptions or presumptions of the learners knowledge.

In the cartoon below by Chris Lysy from fresh Spectrum, he takes the words of  Michael Quinn Patton from his book Developmental Evaluation and turns it into a cartoon representing the three forms of assessment (below).
Formative evaluation is when the cook tastes the soup to see it is what he or she is planning, the guests tasting the soup is the summative, with the guest passing final judgement.
Diagnostic evaluation ...  
"begins when, before cooking, the chef goes to the market to see what vegetables are the freshest, what fish has just arrived, and meanders through the market considering possibilities, thinking about who the guests will be, what they were served last time, what the weather is like, and considers how adventurous and innovative to be with the meal."
As educators we need to be constantly using diagnostic tools to see where our learners are up to in terms of knowledge, skills, mindset and process and also what is going on outside our classroom in the big wide world which will affect them. Not just at the beginning of each unit, but throughout the lessons and the unit.

A few of the diagnostic tools I use most commonly include a quick question - tell me what you know about ....?? With short follow up questions on skills and process this usually gives me enough information for a short lesson on something, and allows me to connect what they have told me they know to what I am teaching them. It gives me a starting place, but also gets their mind thinking about what they do know about something and has them in the zone for learning.

Another diagnostic tool I use quite often with adults is the 4 pronged sentences - 
  • What is one thing you are comfortable with about ...., 
  • What is your biggest concern regarding ..... , 
  • What are your perceived challenges? 
  • What questions do you have? 
The learners write their answers on post it notes and place them on specific boards at the beginning of the unit / workshop. I can look over them and see where they are and what their perceived challenges are, and the depth of their understanding through the questions they ask. Throughout the workshop I ask the learners to move their questions, challenges, understandings to a new place if it is appropriate. It them becomes a formative evaluation.

One of the more common ways of assessing prior knowledge is using a KWL template, Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano in 2011 wrote a blog post to bring the KWL into the 21st Century. She called it the KWHLAQ chart - 

  • What do I know already?
  • What do I want to know? 
  • How do I find out?
  • What have I learned so far?
  • What action will I take?
  • What new questions do I have?
These questions help the learner to determine where they are going, and assist the teacher to see what they already know.... or do they???

I used this template based on the question with a group of adult learners for a field trip we were heading out on and their comments included that they couldn't write any thing for the first question because they didn't know anything about where we were going. This non knowledge is in itself a diagnostic moment and could be turned into a question storm rather than a brain storm.

Question storming is similar to brain storming, but with brain storming you are limited to what you already know, and if you know nothing, then it all comes to a grinding halt. Question storming is limitless as one continues to ask questions, building on previous questions, and even if their knowledge is limited, the learner can still participate and think about the understanding and context of the task. It also allows the teacher to see the level of understanding about the matter at hand through the types of questions being asked. Hal Gergerson co-author of The Innovator’s DNA explains question storming in this short video.

This link on the page Differentiation and LR Information for SAS Teachers has a number of other strategies and tools that can be used to assess prior knowledge and skill levels, identify student misconceptions, profile learners' interests, and reveal learning-style preferences. Angela Stockman has identified 10 creative pre assessment ideas on her page "Brilliant or Insane".  This Pinterest page has a good collection of links to explore on diagnostic assessment.

Pre-assessment is an important part of the teaching process as without it we may aim our teaching too high or low for our learners, which will result in limited learning and a waste of time. We need to do it for a short lesson or for a full unit over a number of weeks. Select the technique that works best for the situation.

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