Give ’em paths

Authentic assessment is a key word these days.  How a student is assessed should be original, and the data that comes out of it clearly describes what the student knows.  Data can come in a variety of ways, but the data has to be real.  So how can students really show what they know in authentic ways?

I reflect on how students came into my classroom earlier this year with only know what a teacher tells them.  It was difficult at first to get them thinking for themselves, but once this happened, they came to understand that how they demonstrate what they know is up to them.  I recall being frustrated and anxious at the start of school; we all felt that.  The frustration wasn’t with the start of school but with how students think.  Many of them feel I should tell them everything and all they have to do is follow.  But, that only creates sheep in the education pasture with few shepherds.  My goal was to get them to see there are multiple paths to accomplish the same thing.  For example, a teacher says to students they are to present on a certain topic.  Students have multiple presentation options that range from PowerPoint to VoiceThread.  In other words, there are many ways to get there.  With many paths to demonstrate what they know, students can display an authentic work that creates new knowledge from what they had prior to learning.

How does the teacher know if the student has really understood the concepts being taught in class?  The learning product displays the concept in a way that makes sense to the student based on a clear description of  the highest level of talent.  I read “Understanding by Design” by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe.  A bullet point summary:

Developed by nationally recognized educators Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe, and published by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD), Understanding by Design® is based on the following key ideas:

  • A primary goal of education should be the development and deepening of student understanding.
  • Students reveal their understanding most effectively when they are provided with complex, authentic opportunities to explain, interpret, apply, shift perspective, empathize, and self-assess. When applied to complex tasks, these “six facets” provide a conceptual lens through which teachers can better assess student understanding.
  • Effective curriculum development reflects a three-stage design process called “backward design” that delays the planning of classroom activities until goals have been clarified and assessments designed. This process helps to avoid the twin problems of “textbook coverage” and “activity-oriented” teaching, in which no clear priorities and purposes are apparent.
  • Student and school performance gains are achieved through regular reviews of results (achievement data and student work) followed by targeted adjustments to curriculum and instruction. Teachers become most effective when they seek feedback from students and their peers and use that feedback to adjust approaches to design and teaching.
  • Teachers, schools, and districts benefit by “working smarter” through the collaborative design, sharing, and peer review of units of study.
Teachers should begin with a backwards approach to clarify exactly what they are seeking.  Let’s be real though and that is that teachers don’t have this kind of time.  So, start with the end in mind asking the question, “What do we want students to learn?”  That solidifies the premise of assessment and that we have to assess.  I am a big proponent of talent based assessment for a variety of reasons but one that makes sense in this post is the concept that what kids know should be described vs. being a point or set of points.  Starting with the description allows a teacher to view student’s work as whether or not it meets levels of talent vs. an illegitimate point based system.

Giving students multiple paths to show what they have learned gives students a creative license to share their learning in authentic ways.  I hope students leave my first quarter class with the idea that there are a variety of ways to accomplish something.

How do you assess students in authentic ways?