“On the Spot” Assessment – Shifting from Teaching to Learning

The more you teach without finding out who understands the information and who doesn’t, the greater the likelihood that only already-proficient students will succeed.
Grant Wiggins (2006)

The Matthew Effect in education derives its name from a passage (Matthew 25:29) in the New Testament: “For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.” The term to describe a phenomenon where early success in acquiring reading skills usually leads to later successes in reading as the learner grows, while failing to learn to read before the third or fourth year of schooling may be indicative of lifelong problems in learning new skills.
from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matthew_effect_(education)

So basically in my own words, good readers become better learners, and students who struggle with reading struggle in learning later on as well.

But… (and this is the big one…)

THIS DOES NOT HAVE TO BE THE CASE!

In his book, Teach Like a Champion, Doug Lemov shares research that shows that schools in poverty areas can raise standards and achievement, and that they are not doomed to low results. By looking at one school that was able to overcome this, Lemov identified effective teaching techniques to help teachers, especially those in their first few years.

Many people still believe that intelligence is something that kids are born innately with, and that it does not change over time. Research has proven over and over again that this is not so. Unfortunately, teachers often would present information with the assumption that “I have taught it, so it is the student’s fault if they did not learn it…”

This is so far off the mark!

If we want to move beyond just “Teaching” and into “Learning,” assessment for learning must become more prevalent for not only teachers, but for students and parents as well.

Kim Marshall calls this “On the Spot” Assessments, or Formative Assessment, or Assessment for Learning.  (I really like this term “On the Spot.” It is blunt and very clear.)

As an example, let’s look at art and painting. As a young teacher, I did not want to interfere with the student creative process. Then I saw the amazing, creative work that was happening in a colleague’s classroom. Why? Artistic group? What was going on here?

Then I asked him and found out some of his strategies. The techniques and concepts would be taught, but students then got time to experiment and try it out. They would work on rough copies and share them with a group and with the teacher, who would give them early feedback, coach them, push improvement, offer ideas and suggestions, and ask them why they did certain things the way they did. This collaborative work and iterative process got them thinking before they got too far into the work to make changes, and the artworks they created became better and better…

Amazingly, these are the same processes I use as a painter and artist, but I did not automatically transfer it over into teaching and learning…

Can this work in reading? Writing? Math? Yes, of course it can, but it demands that the teacher work in different ways, get away from the front of the class, and not hammer their way through the day as they have so much to “cover” without going back.

The questions to guide us in this work is looking specifically at “What do we want our students to learn?” and “How will we know if they have learned it?

NOT that the content has been covered…

Or, as Dylan Wiliam and Ian Beatty put it:

“Agile teaching, responsive to student learning, minute by minute, day by day, month by month.”

Work hard, learn tons…
D

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