Thursday, August 03, 2006

A is for Assessment

I really enjoyed the responses to my ICT: The C is for Creativity post - despite being accused of being an old cynic. :-) However, I suspect you got bored and wandered off while waiting for me to get back from Germany. As a result, although I have now replied to all the comments, I feel that I was shouting at an empty room. Therefore, I decided to pick up on a couple of the issues here in a new post.

Werk werk werk...,
originally uploaded by Fanis
A number of people implied that the post was anti-assessment. If it was, I didn't mean it to be! I think assessment is an incredibly important part of the education process. However, the unthinking application of check-lists from the approved teaching pack is not assessment! I don't think the pack itself is always the problem here, but rather the way it is used. My worry is that a teacher could arrive at the end of a Blog Unit in the pack, have a full set of ticks for every pupil, and assume that they have "done blogs". They could then move onto the next unit without ever going near blogs again. They may have ticked the boxes, but have they actually assessed learning? Perhaps not.

One of the examples I gave was "Create three line blog post". I have seen checklists items like that for multimedia teaching packs - "Create a mutlimedia resource with three screens". Why three screen? Because it is easy to check! However, I have seen one screen multimedia resources that are more impressive than thirty-three screen resources. To assess a multimedia resource properly, you have to do more than just count the screens!

I can't remember who said this, and I'm probably misquoting, but...
Not everything that is measurable is valuable and not everything that is valuable is measurable.
I think the things that are most educationally valuable about blogs and read/write web tools are the hardest to measure. Certainly, the creativity they encourage, the excitement they generate are almost impossible to reduce to a simple checklist.

That however brings us to another A - A for accountability! John asked (and others hinted at the same issue), "How does the authority make sure I am doing something in my class, not just swinging some 'creative lead'?" That seems to be less about assessment and more about accountability. Perhaps there is a place for the checklist here as it involves minimal administrative overhead and gives physical evidence that can be easily checked and filed by the powers that be. (Oops! Slipping into old cynic mode again!) However better evidence that something educationally valuable is happening can be found simply be reading the blog or listening to the podcast. With even a fairly casual look at what John's pupils are doing, it is clear that learning is taking place. If further evidence is needed, talk to the pupils and listen to what they have to say. For example, I loved John's description of what happened when his class met Muriel Gray - there was evidence aplenty that learning had happened! However, capturing and recording that evidence is tricky.

So, I'm not anti-assessment, it's just that I think checklists are of limited value and can give a false sense of achievement. Assessment takes time, skill and effort - the same can't be said for checklists!

If we want to help our students to learn, we need to know what we want to assess and how we will do it. What do you think we should be assessing when we use read/write web tools with our students?

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Ewan McIntosh said...

You often get people accusing the blogger of being not so much anti-assessment as just non-assessment. It's normally the second or third question (after how we stop kids being preyed upon or how much time it takes). The fact is, summative assessment is overrated. I did my action research on social software and gifted students. That revealed how much grades discourage our TOP pupils, let alone the bottom sets. Social software may well increase attainment, but making that causal link is near impossible in a classroom where thousands of factors are in play. Yet, I am not discouraged because, as you say, the observational and qualitative look at the formative assessment going on in blogs is far more valuable.

David said...

I think there is a place for summative assessment but I agree that as an tool to assist learning, it is at best of minimal use and at worst it is positively damaging.

Perhaps I should have said a bit more about formative assessment and the whole Assessment Is For Learning thing in my post. And what about the whole area of self and peer assessment? Read/Write web tools would seem ideal for this kind of assessment.

Barbara said...

Disscusion of assesment is the other side of my plan for professonal development in-services in Sept. If you have not read the book Transforming Classroom grading by Robert J. Manzo I highly recommend it. I have not pulled it all togetehr yet but I believe it has incredible potential to address the issue raised by blogging and other forms of digital work.
Two key elements in his presentation are the careful evaluation of all assesments to determine exactly what knowledge and skill are being assesed and using rubrics to measure mastery rather than simply giving the average as the grade. He believes any "grading should be broken doen by the specific knowledge or skill not lumped together into one test grade. He also had developed a great set of adaptable rubrics around the essentials of the curriculum which he identifies as: Information bases topics, Skill or process topics, and Thinking and Reasoning Skills.
I do not pretend to have a full grasp of how to move forward but I believe he has some very important points to make.

David said...

Hello Barbara

I'll certainly look out for Manzo's book, it sounds interesting.

The work on assessment that is having the biggest impact in Scotland at the moment is the "Black Box" stuff by Black, William et al. Two of the key texts are available online: Inside the Black Box and Beyond the Black Box. Check it out - I'm sure you'll find them interesting.

This work is part of the research that is underpinning the Assessment is for Learning programme and there's a whole bundle of resources on this website that are worth reading too.

Chris said...

Am I being simple-minded when I ask if you're not going to assess whatever you are setting out to do with any blog? If, for example, I was using blog entries to build up material in a class who were to write a critical essay on the topic of free will versus predestination in Shakespeare's "Macbeth" (OK - I'm thinking longingly of a top section!) then I'd be looking for ideas and relevant textual reference expressed in such a way as to answer the question.
But I may well have missed the point here - my head's halfway up Beinn an Lochain at the moment...

David said...

"my head's halfway up Beinn an Lochain" ... which is a very good place to be. :-)

No, I don't think you've missed the point. Sometimes we get too excited about the technology when what we should be interested in is what the technology is being used to do. The important bit of a blog about Macbeth is presumably Macbeth not Macblog!

As the son of a very intelligent person once said: "It's not about the tech, it's about the teach."

Chris said...

Very prettily put! and I had a great climb in the mist - you can see the photos to prove it

Bob Hill said...

I started teaching in the days!!!!!.... when there was such a thing as professional judgement. Assessment should be something a teacher does everyday. Not ticking boxes, but using his or her judgement as to whether pupils are making progress and learning.

I am going to have a sleepless night thinking of the 3 line blog!.. That is why I keep banging on about changing classroom methods.

Let's hope that in a few years time we can look back and say that Web 2.0 gave us the 21st century methodology as opposed to a techy version of the 19th.

David said...

Chris said:
"Very prettily put!"

Thank-you. Being married to an English teacher must have made some difference to my writing style. :-) (Although I suspect you were talking about the tech/teach bit which I thought you'd recognise as being one from your son!)

David said...


Teachers as professionals rather than technicians implementing someone else's work - now there's a novel concept. :-) Oops! I'm being an old cynic again!

john said...

Hi David,
Lots of good stuff here and the links to the Black Box reminded me that they provide useful ammunition for promoting blogging the black box is popular in Glasgow at the moment.
Chris is on the button as you would not set a task without thinking of the result, but blogging in my experience often produces unexpected results. When I assess these against general guidelines (say the MIICE toolkit) I can be reassured learning has happened, but it might not be the learning I had planned (hopefully that happened too). Blogs, by being open to the world can head of in interesting, unexpected and powerful directions, if you don't just tick the boxes.

David said...

Thanks for reminding me about MICE - I should have thought of that myself. Something else I need to re-read. :-)