The classroom is a busy place for a teacher. In high schools, every block means roughly 30 more students, each bringing his/her own strengths, weaknesses, interests, personalities, etc to the class. We know that each student is unique, will learn in different ways and at different rates, but too often we make a generalization and refer to them as our 'English 9 class' or our 'Block G class'. Likewise, because we are faced with the organizational challenge of working with so many students we put expectations on our students that they will all learn at roughly the same pace. Too often, the unintended consequence is that we emphasize 'learning on time' instead of what we should emphasize...LEARNING!
This post focusses on a few assessment practices that educators can implement within a busy 'class' that will embrace each student's individuality and support...
- students learning at their own pace
- learning as an ongoing process
- students learning from their mistakes
Enter the learning log! Learning logs can exist in a variety of forms. What is important about a learning log is that a student writes down the specific learning targets for the class and self-assesses his/her own progress towards these targets at the end of each class period. The self-assessment could be as simple as a 'green light, amber light, red light system' where students assess themselves a green light if they've mastered a target to the extent that they could teach a peer, amber light if they are getting there but need some more practice and a red light if they need to stop, ask a question, then practice with some guidance from the teacher.
What is most important about a learning log is that it encourages students to track their own progress towards the mastery of learning targets. Learning logs focus students' attention on their learning progression towards targets rather than simply trying to meet deadlines for completing work. Learning logs also offer students a way to go back in time and update their progress towards a target that they were previously unable to meet, even if the learning target came from a previous unit or term. Learning logs also recognize that we should be encouraging our students to learn from their mistakes. Say a student uses teacher feedback to correct a process he/she was previously applying incorrectly to solve a certain type of problem. Even if a student goes beyond the initial timeline for the class to demonstrate he/she has made an improvement, his/her progress is still valid and should be acknowledged.
Too often, our practices indicate to our students that we are more interested in the timeliness of their learning and less about the depth and quality of their learning. Inflexible due dates, late penalties and zeros for work not yet completed all send the message to students that as much as we value learning, we place greater value on the fact that they learn certain things by a certain date. These practices penalize the slower learner and force him/her to hastily complete work rather than learn for the sake of understanding. If we truly want to encourage deep learning, we must allow students the necessary time to do so and our assessment practices must reflect this belief.
Here is where the flexible deadlines come in! Does it really matter whether a student learns to solve an algebraic equation or write a chemical formula today instead of next week or next month? Ultimately, are we more interested in seeing students learn or learn on time? I'm not suggesting we should eliminate deadlines completely, but I do think we need to offer our students a little bit of flexibility and acknowledge that some students are going to require a little more time to master certain concepts. Furthermore, our assessment practices should reflect students' most recent improvements in learning. Just as the new learning of a concept replaces the previous learning of the same concept, new assessments of a student's level of mastery of a concept should replace previous assessments of student's level of mastery of the same concept.