Assessment, Growth mentality, Learning Maps, Self-Regulated Learning

Rethinking learning maps #4: Evaluating my existing formative assessments.

This blog post is a continuation in a series of posts about my self-regulated inquiry project in a course I’m taking this summer. Up to this point, I have…

  1. …begun looking at the big ideas on learning maps as big goals which students will reach by the end of the course.
  2. …revised my existing learning map for French 8 using the most recent curriculum update.
  3. …summarized research I’m using to align my day to day feedback with the learning maps and self-regulated learning.

My next step is to use the information generated by my research to evaluate the current forms of feedback, reflections and formative assessments I’m using and make changes as necessary. I’m targeting this range of documents and this stage of the self-regulation and assessment process because the research says this is the best way to improve student performance overall. My goal as a teacher is to support my students to be as successful as possible in achieving those distal goals expressed in the learning map, so I’m looking at formative assessments, self-assessments, peer assessments or feedback, and reflections as tools to help get them there. Like many other teachers I know, I’ve used some of these terms interchangeably in the past, but in doing this research I’ve formed new understandings of the function and format of the various documents I used that helps me understand when and where to use them more effectively. In order to do this, I’m starting by defining my terms.

Formative assessment is the practice of using structures that collect evidence of student learning while content is still being taught. Its purpose is to monitor progress towards a goal, identify strengths and areas for improvement, provide feedback on the learning, and guide teacher practice. I’m using the term self-assessment to refer to the process of a student using criteria to assess their own progress towards a goal. I usually use this structure to ask students to look at the product of their work, but it may also incorporate some thinking about the process as they look at progress towards an end goal. The term peer assessment is similar, but refers to one student using a set of criteria to assess a peer’s progress towards a goal. Feedback is a general term that refers to information about a student’s learning and can refer to either process or product, or both, and can be delivered orally or in writing. I frequently use reflection as a tool to ask students to look at the processes and strategies they use in their learning, and to take a big picture view that feeds forward into distal goals.

The research that I reviewed in my last blog post indicated that there are 7 qualities of effective feedback. This doesn’t mean that I need 7 different types of feedback, because that would be exhausting for both me and my students, but it does mean that I need a few carefully selected templates that I can modify to suit a task, process, strategy or assessment purpose. I want my students to become so familiar with the basic forms of assessment that I use so that I spend less time talking about how to complete the assessment and more time gathering and using the information.

For the past two years, I have been working with a new program for Core French 8-10. As with most classroom-ready programs, it comes with pre-made assessment tools, which can be edited in Word to include the elements I’ve learned through my research, and to align more closely with the learning maps I’m using. This program was published in Québec, and although second language curricula across Canada are not wildly different from one another, differences do exist and the templates need to be adjusted to accommodate both that factor and the differences in how teachers use these documents in their classroom assessment. Here’s what I have as a basic starting point within the program:

One of the strengths of these documents is their use of graphics to communicate progress and understanding. When students are learning a second language, it’s important to keep as much as possible in the target language, but the vocabulary for self-assessment or reflection is an add-on to a traditional language program. The use of graphics does a nice job of communicating that meaning, and is a great basis from which to work. In image 1, the student draws themselves on the mountainside to represent their progress towards their goal of reaching the top. In image 2, the student circles a thumbs up, thumb straight across or thumbs down icon that represents whether they can or can’t perform a given skill (the skills can be edited and changed) or whether their progress is somewhere in the middle. In image 3, the student colours the thermometer to indicate how far their understanding has progressed up the scale. In image 4, the student draws their progress on the race course and checks the applicable item on the list to show which skills or strategies they used to support their progress.

One element I will change is the title. All of them are currently labeled as self-assessments, but the format could be equally well used by a teacher providing feedback to a student, or as a peer assessment.

The skills and strategies listed are also areas that I will edit. In some cases I will need to change them from reading skills to speaking/writing/listening/viewing, and in others I can fill in information from the learning map, or leave space for a student to write in their own goals and strategy choices. The skills and strategies listed are also areas that I will edit. In some cases I will need to change them from reading skills to speaking/writing/listening/viewing, and in others I can fill in information from the learning map, or leave space for a student to write in their own goals and strategy choices.

Because of the limitations of second language vocabulary at this level, these formative assessments give me some information about progress, but not enough to meet all the criteria for the elements of good feedback. For example, criteria #3 is “…delivers high quality information to students about their learning.” The existing format delivers basic information about students’ learning, but is not sufficient to help students use it to make changes that will result in improvements in a finished product. Criteria #6 is “…provides opportunities to close the gap between current and desired performance.” Connected to criteria #3, I think there is room for improvement here. Criteria #7 is “…provides information to teachers that can be used to help shape teaching.” This area needs significant improvement and is something I will work on as I edit these documents. I am considering asking students to mix their first and second languages in completing these formative assessments. The original intent of the document is obviously to provide a format that uses only the target language, but there are three recurring thoughts I have here. The first is that the priority for this type of work is not that it be done in the target language, so much as that it meet the criteria for effective feedback and help support self-regulated learning. There is nothing in the curriculum document that requires students to self-assess or reflect in the target language. The second is that I want my students to finish the course with a set of skills that are not specific to Core French, but that can be transferred to other courses as well to make them more aware of how they learn. The third is that my learning map is written in English, all reporting is done in English, and so at some point English can and should be used in the assessment and feedback process. That will vary from grade level to grade level and student to student, but it will be a part of the process.

In addition to those pictured, I will be using two other types of documents. The first is a simple grid format which I will use to develop awareness of skills and strategies that students should be using in a given task. It looks like this:

I typically ask students to create a video of their oral work, and upload it to FreshGrade (the digital portfolio platform I use in my classes). After completing the task, they will view the video and use the strategy sheet pictured above to self-assess and reflect on their strategy use. They will use plastic tokens (shown in the second image, above) to indicate their level of growth in a skill by placing 3 tokens on a square to show that they can use that skill easily, 2 tokens if they sometimes use it, 1 token if they rarely use it, and no tokens if they are not using it yet. They will take a photo of the sheet with the tokens placed on it, and upload that photo to FreshGrade as part of their reflection on the assignment. The photo can then be used as part of a post-assignment conference either with a partner or with me, or can be elaborated on using a written response question in English, also posted on FreshGrade. Over time, students should see an increasing number of tokens appearing on their pages, and develop their skills in a range of contexts. The skills shown can be edited and changed as needed, or a blank version can be handed out for students to fill in with other skills that are being targeted in a given task.

The second document is a single point rubric which will be used when students have had an opportunity to practice a set of skills a few times and have developed some initial feedback on which to base their comments.

This particular rubric targets listening skills. This is one of the more challenging skills for students to self-assess and measure growth in, because so much of the process is internal. Breaking it down in this way allows students to see that there are measurable skills that can contribute to success in listening tasks, and to focus on them one at a time. This document can be used as a self, peer or teacher feedback, and is general enough that it can apply to a wide range of tasks using listening skills, so that students will get multiple opportunities to practice and receive feedback.

This type of feedback checks all the boxes on the good feedback list I generated from my research. One area that will still require adaptation or support is for students who may struggle with written output, students who have limited experience in a second language class, or students with IEPs requiring various types of support. The left side is a place to list the things that are going well. I have seen versions of single point rubrics that ask students to list areas of weakness on the left, but I have chosen to focus on strengths. In general, I have found that most of us can identify our flaws, but focusing on that doesn’t generally move learning forward. Focusing on the strengths will allow students to build a foundation and attach other skills to that. If needed, the areas of improvement can be mentioned in the right-hand column as they outline next steps. This document also serves as a goal-setting template, and can be returned to throughout the course to measure growth.

This blog post represents a couple of steps in my proximal goal-setting document. I have jumped around a bit, but reflecting on the feedback templates as I gathered them has me closer to my end (distal) goal. My next step will be to look at timing of the feedback to coincide with the self-regulated learning cycle.

“Blueprint”by Will Scullin is licensed under CC BY 2.0 

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