It’s an exciting time in literacy education. Schools are trending toward skills-based outcomes that better prepare students for a future where innovation is valued more than simple knowledge. Classrooms are humming with hands-on, inquiry-infused literacy experiences that ignite deeper thinking about texts. Students are solving problems, creating new understandings, collaborating, questioning, researching and exploring technological tools.
The shift toward this type of instruction is positive, but it’s only part of the puzzle. A shift to assessment techniques that marry well to this style of literacy instruction is also needed. Literacy curriculum and assessment must be a package deal. Traditional assessment techniques like grades and overvaluing of summative data can adversely affect or even eclipse progress students make toward mastery of modern skills.
-What reading and writing assessments are useful for this fresh type of teaching?
-What are the best assessments for 21st century skills-based literacy outcomes?
-How can we ensure data encourages the skills we want our students to develop?
Consider these five tips….
Design assessments that highlight valued behaviors
Traditional grading was created to encourage retention of content. Today, students need more. They need the ability to question the status quo; to develop and communicate their own opinions and solve problems based on the information they read and the experiences they have.
Because units and lessons should focus more on skills than content, assessments should, too. When planning, ask, “What do I want my students to be able to do?” rather than, “What do I want my students to know?” These skills should be the basis for both formative and summative assessments and feedback. Design tasks along the way where you can observe and assess these behaviors in action.
Use assessments to motivate
Grades do not motivate all learners. Students tend to identify as either “smart” or “not smart” upon seeing grades and often develop fixed mindsets in this system.
At the onset of every unit of study, provide a rubric or checklist that clearly states the desired elements and expected skills and behaviors in the unit. Take class time to go over the desired outcomes and discuss the work that will be required to get there. Provide exemplary examples and allow students to observe and talk about them prior to beginning the work.
Provide feedback that is ongoing, specific and helpful
Students need constructive feedback often, and they need it while working toward their goals. Formal conference sessions are good, but don’t wait until then. Take observational notes on your rubrics. Roam the room regularly and give out quick instructional sound bites (or notes on a feedback “tickets”) about what students are doing well and what they might try differently. Give plenty of opportunities for informal peer feedback too. Use a tool like Google docs to “be present” in your students’ work and make regular comments. Be specific and coach toward behaviors that will carry beyond the assignment itself.
Give opportunities after feedback to demonstrate mastery
In a traditional grading system, students receive grades after an assignment is complete. This gives no chance for students to adjust their approach and work toward mastery. Students need time to digest feedback and put it into practice.
Regular formative feedback helps give students the opportunity to adjust as they go. If a summative assessment is used (chapter test, final product score), plan time after it to allow students to review their results and reflect. Give students time to make changes and to make plans for future application of those skills.
Free students from the shame of failing
Failure is an important part of learning, yet it has become stigmatized in schools. Babies fall down many times before they become competent walkers. Students need a sanctuary for making attempts and failing—often!
Make sure students know that you value attempts at new things (like reading a new genre), taking risks (like writing a heartfelt piece of poetry), and perseverance (as when applying complex grammar rules). Praise these behaviors when you see them. Value them much more than you would an “A.” Let students see you fail, too. (Share your editing and revision processes as you write.)
A liberated approach to teaching requires an assessment plan free from the burdens of a traditional system. This is a tall order, but these considerations can help lay the foundation for an effective plan.
– Post by Debbie Lera. Questions/comments? Email DebbieL.LitLife@gmail.com or respond below. We’ll always get back to you!