Monday, November 16, 2015

Assessment can be Fun!

In the 2010 Ontario Ministry of Education document, Growing Success, seven fundamental principles of assessment and evaluation are outlined.

The Seven Fundamental Principles
To ensure that assessment, evaluation, and reporting are valid and reliable, and that they lead to the improvement of learning for all students, teachers use practices and procedures that:
• are fair, transparent, and equitable for all students;
• support all students, including those with special education needs, those who are learning the language of instruction (English or French), and those who are First Nation, M├ętis, or Inuit;
• are carefully planned to relate to the curriculum expectations and learning goals and, as much as possible, to the interests, learning styles and preferences, needs, and experiences of all students;
• are communicated clearly to students and parents at the beginning of the school year or course and at other appropriate points throughout the school year or course;
• are ongoing, varied in nature, and administered over a period of time to provide multiple opportunities for students to demonstrate the full range of their learning;
• provide ongoing descriptive feedback that is clear, specific, meaningful, and timely to support improved learning and achievement;
• develop students’ self-assessment skills to enable them to assess their own learning, set specific goals, and plan next steps for their learning.
The purpose is to improve student learning, but what I didn't consider (and it's not listed in the document) is that assessment can be fun. Usually evaluation isn't fun for me. I agonize too much and second-guess myself. However, I had two recent assignments that I actually enjoyed marking - and the students did too.

Kindergarten Music - Singing Solo

This is my first year that I can recall teaching kindergarten music. I was very self-conscious about the prospect because I knew I was not as knowledgeable as our music/ESL teacher. (There were so many ELL students to service that there was no room in her schedule to see the three kindergarten classes for music, so they became my responsibility.) I met with the teacher and took pages of notes on what she typically does. What I realized is that I couldn't completely mimic her program. I have a different teaching style and it was okay for me not to replicate the music teacher's entire repertoire. One of the techniques I recently tried that she usually did not employ was to hear children sing individually. I thought this would backfire. I predicted that many students would refuse to sing. We had been playing a physical game for weeks based on the song "Pop Goes the Weasel" and the SKs had even rewritten the song with new lyrics (which wasn't my idea but theirs - inquiry learning takes us in unexpected directions). I borrowed the class iPad, pulled up a  recording app, and first asked the seniors to sing their new verses. They did a phenomenal job. I decided to take the plunge and try it with the juniors. To my surprise and delight, 95% were able and willing to do it! For some, I had never heard them speak in English alone before, and here they were, singing in English! If I can figure out how, I'll embed some of the MP3 files we recorded here in the blog so you can hear some of their sweet, tiny voices. 

Primary Drama - Face Acting Feedback

Long range planning has taken a bit of a back seat for drama and dance this year, as I try harder to integrate our drama/dance lessons with what's currently happening in the regular classroom and give students greater say in what and how we do things. (This happens to an extent - if it were up to them, we would play "Bop It" and "Toy Store" every single class!) We started with voice acting and have now moved to face acting. We had long discussions about emotions and how feelings are expressed with facial expressions. One of our final tasks will be a single photo with props that represents a specific emotion or situation, but to help prepare students to do this, our "mid-unit" evaluation consisted of selecting six emotions and showing them on our faces. We took photos and I printed them out. Growing Success describes assessment FOR learning and assessment AS learning (and notes that "terms such as diagnostic, formative, and summative, which are used to identify the nature of assessment, have recently been supplemented with the phrases assessment for learning, assessment as learning, and assessment of learning. ... the nature of the assessment is determined by what the information is to be used for" [page 30]). The activity we did last week was both FOR and AS. The class members examined the photos and selected the best facial expression each student made (designated by tally marks on sticky notes). We re-discussed what made certain expressions more effective than others and then wrote detailed feedback to each other using the "two stars and a wish" structure on a larger Post-It (c) note. I used the same format when providing my own feedback and evaluated both their facial expressions and their evaluations. This matched these drama expectations:
  • B1.4 communicate feelings and ideas to a familiar audience (e.g., classmates), using several simple visual or technological aids to support and enhance their drama work 
  • B2.3 identify and give examples of their strengths, interests, and areas for improvement as drama participants and audience members
I actually enjoyed looking at the photos and providing feedback. Often, my feedback mirrored that of the student evaluators, which made me feel like I was on the right track. I'll try and scan some of the examples, but unfortunately I'll have to blur the faces for privacy reasons. 

I know it's not a prerequisite to make marking fun, but it definitely made the task easier and made me eager to complete it in a timely manner. 

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