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Assess Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself

Assessment and feedback loops are fundamental components of learning.  In their book Empower, A. J. Juliani and John Spencer emphasize the importance of moving the locus of control of these cycles from the teacher to the learner. They invite us to make the shift from,

“Taking an assessment to assessing your own learning.”

A major component of this shift is rethinking what assessment is. Assessment is not simply summative assessments such as tests. We need to look at assessment as happening every time students are introduced to new content or skills, practice, or demonstrate mastery. Assessment is happening every day in our classes. All of these are opportunities to measure progress towards mastery. Too often, though, students see these as tasks the complete for someone else to judge rather than opportunities to self-manage and self-assess. We need to be intentional about the process not simply the work students are being tasked with.

Spencer and Juliani outline 4 key questions learners should ask themselves as a part of any assessment to make it a meaningful part of their own learning cycle.
  1. What is my current level of mastery of this outcome?
  2. What are the gaps between my current level and mastery?
  3. What is my goal? What progress am I looking to make?
  4. What is my plan to reach that goal?

These questions help student not simply set a goal, but allow them to define and design their own future assessment plan.

The problem I run into is that students have not learned to be good at self-assessment.  For most of their schooling, they have been mindlessly turning in work. When it is returned with a grade there is even less reflection. The level of reflection is reduced to statements like
  • “I think I bombed it.”
  • “I think I aced it.”
  • “I did horribly.”
  • “I should have studied more.”
  • “That was easy.”

This is not the type of reflection that will help students drive their learning now or ever. The teacher owns this process. We need to shift from explicitly teaching our content without addressing self-assessment to being explicit about reflection and allowing learners to discover our content without a rigid framework.

In chapter 8 of Empower, Spencer and Juliani outline a great number of assessment strategies. They are framed at different levels: self-assessment, peer assessment, and teacher student conferences. This helps illustrate the point that we have to be intentional about assessment practices all the time.

Ultimately the goal of our classrooms is shifting to create great learners.  So, we need to be intentional about the learning process.

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