Developing and understanding one’s driving philosophies, or one’s mindset, is the most important element toward achieving great results. My driving philosophy as an educator is to constantly work toward maximizing learning for all my students.
One of the key concepts that impacts successful learning is how I frame assessments in my classroom. Assessments are sometimes seen as a summative measure of learning. However, as teachers, we need to see assessments as formative measures of learning, and we need to establish this mindset with our students.
When framed properly, assessments can and should help keep the focus on learning. Assessments should serve as points of insight in helping teachers and students better understand their current progress.
I work to build this assessment outlook, and remind students that learning is a process, in three ways:
1. Four expectations
I set four expectations for my students on the first day of class:
- Follow directions
- Be respectful
- Be honest (especially with yourself)
- Strive to be your best while risking failure
We work on these expectations together as a class. The most important expectation is not listed first, but is worked on first: honesty. I model and show the importance of honesty with them, which helps create one learning community. As the year continues, I am transparent and direct in the purpose of activities, and students are given general directions to pursue or research a concept, but are provided the freedom to work in the best means for them. With this understanding, they are more likely to buy into each assessment serving as a way to monitor their learning.
The second most important expectation is tied closely to honesty and that is striving to be your best. As John Wooden stated, “The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.” In the classroom, students know when they are striving for their best. If they are honest with what they know and what they are working to achieve, we can connect and help them learn.
2. Assessments for learning
In my classroom, most assessments can be revised for a new grade until the end of the quarter. This provides students a chance to work on mistakes and improve their current work, which allows them to learn from their drafts. While some assessments cannot be revised, I will provide different opportunities for the same concept to be assessed. I work to provide a wide variety of options for students to demonstrate their learning, ranging from projects, papers and quizzes to tests, reflections, and much more. Being challenged by different types of assessments enables students to cross check their understanding, helping them push their knowledge to new levels and highlight the ways they learn best.
3. Individual feedback
In combination with the first two elements of my classroom, my students write reflection posts and have chances for individual conversations and conferencing with me about their learning and their work. During these opportunities, students seek to understand more about themselves as learners, and I share with them how their classrooms assessments were graded. In addition, we review interim and benchmark assessment results. I answer questions students have about their test results, and we work together to identify how they can improve. These are opportunities for me to learn how to best help my students, and are important conversations to have in order for my students to reach for the next step in their own learning.
Together these steps help build this community of continual learning with my students and reinforce the idea that learning is a process. We must convey that their learning is not completed with an assessment, but instead that assessment can provide a formative checkpoint to learn how to modify or adapt. With the right approach, students understand how assessments can help keep the focus on learning. When they are in class, they may struggle with a concept or a topic, but we need to continue to build their confidence and belief that they are learners. With practice, students can continue to grow as life-long learners.