Recently, we sat down with Ruth Schackmann, a regular contributor to our blog and a middle school English/Language Arts teacher, to talk about the ongoing process of assessment in her classroom. We discussed involving students in their own evaluations and using these opportunities to understand problems, rather than using them to rank students. Here is part of our conversation.
Why use evaluations every day?
Using evaluations every day helps students keep tabs on how they are doing, and it gives both of us a record of their understanding of what the standards are asking. In my class, when students finish their first narrative writing assignment, they use a rubric from the state assessment to pre-grade, revise and edit their writing. After turning in the final draft, they have to evaluate their first attempt to write and grade it with this specific, intense rubric.
For the evaluation, I ask two questions:
1. How did you do trying narrative writing with this rubric?
2. How do you know your evaluation of your effort is right?
How do they respond?
I’ll give you some examples from my students:
- “It was good because I had made mistakes in my rough draft until I used the rubric to grade it. I put in more details and fit in more things that were interesting in my final draft.”
- “I did kinda bad because I did not show details or explain that well in my story. Also, I needed to fix my mistakes.”
Remember, this is after their first assignment. They will get better at meeting standards, and they will get better at evaluating their own progress. Consistently reinforcing the standards and providing an easy, painless way to assess themselves means they will become fearless at putting their work to a measure.
Does this mean that your students write and then evaluate their work every day? Why is this important to the process?
They do evaluate writing every day, and students revisit their evaluation skills daily. The benefit is two-fold: they get better at writing and better at evaluating. After they work on a formative assessment, I will ask them how they knew they understood. If they can respond by explaining their learning, they have mastered the learning targets. If they say they did not understand, we revisit the work. For tests and projects, students have formal rubrics that they use to assess their work. The evaluations are much more structured.
Recently, students had a chance to examine all the rubrics classmates filled out about their presentations. Each student had 20+ presentation rubrics to enter into an Excel sheet. They looked at their data to assess how their presentation worked. It was meaningful to hear them explain to each other how they interpreted the information, and finally, they wrote an evaluation of their performance. They did the evaluation. They assessed the data. They will remember what areas they need to work on before the next presentation.
You must see big changes from the beginning of the year to the end of the year in the students’ work. Is part of the purpose for students to see that growth, as well?
The most important thing is for students to see their growth. I document their work and keep samples all year. I am infamous for holding onto the first writing assignment of year and giving it back just before Halloween. It’s fantastic to see their faces when they are trying to read what they wrote. They tell me things like: “I can’t read this” or “I thought I was trying to impress you with my writing — I guess you weren’t very impressed.”
In May of this school year, I am returning two assignments they have not gotten back yet. One is a short story they wrote for fun that uses the same narrative rubric they will use in seventh grade, and the other is a short research project they did to practice persuasion. By the end of the term, they will have practiced writing and persuading their audience many times. They will have examples of readings too. I’m excited to see what they say when they see their original works.
Why is there a temptation to rank students when assessing them, and how can teachers avoid the temptation?
If the focus is on the skills students bring to the work, there is no rank. The continuum is too broad and the skills are too varied past the point of finite reference points. If I have two students who can create allegories or analogies, they will understand how to create them differently. Skills are not rank-able. Students have their own processes to acquire skills.
And, why bother ranking? Everything in teaching and learning needs to be move-able. You will still have to adjust your speech, the configuration of their seats (mixed or like-ability grouping), assignments of texts (above, on and below-level) and types and levels of questions to accommodate learning styles. Stay flexible instead of worrying about rank order.