Sunday, March 13, 2011

Assessment: comments and marks

Assessment is something I have really been thinking about recently. It is such an important part of teaching for several reasons, however I also see how problematic it can be. 

In Bianca’s blog she makes a great comment in pointing out issues in her stage 6 classroom.
“Well, I too am a teacher and I too feel the awful mounting pressures of the need to fill students with content necessary to excel in the end of year examination. My Stage 6 class badly want the content – I can see it in their eyes, ‘Please Miss, please just write on the board what we need to know and let us put it in our essays!’ And I know what needs to go in there. But so far I have been resistant to ‘give’ it to them that easily – I have refused to ‘reduce’ the world of literature and ideas  (which in my current case is the man himself, Mr W. Shakespeare) to an essay scaffold and dot points. Does that make me a bad teacher? Well it makes me feel like one. “  

Bianca is discussing the issue of content verses understanding. We have such a strong history of rote learning throughout our schooling it is hard for many students to actually feel they are learning anything if they are not taking copious amounts of work and being given the answer. I know my HSC experience was very similar. On reflection, I felt that the teachers who were not giving me the strait forward information I needed to know were horrible and wanting me to fail. In retrospect, they were the teachers wanting me to have knowledge I could take into life with me rather than just pass the test, enduring understandings. These are the teachers I remember now, they had my best interest in mind. 

As a soon to be teacher in the public school system, I have to accept the fact I do not necessarily agree with many summative assessment practices. However, reading Working inside the Black Box: Assessment for Learning in the Classroom by Black and et al, I realise just because the assessment is summative doesn’t mean I can’t use it as a tool for my students to learn from, a tool of assessment for learning! 

Black and et al have found that “Students given marks are likely to see it as a way to compare themselves with others; those given only comments see it as helping them to improve. The latter group outperforms the former.” (18, 2004) A question to myself is how can I use this information in my classroom, especially in stage 6 when marks/grades are necessary? My idea is to hand back the assignment with comments only, once students have reflected on their assessment comments and acknowledged areas in which they did well and how they could improve, only then will they get their assessment mark back. My question to you is, is this ethical, and is this allowed? How much can I expect my students to do to show they have understood the comments?

Here is the link to Bianca's Blog entry:

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