“How can we assess students in the online environment?”
This is a question I‘ve been asked A LOT lately.
So, here are 5 tips for approaching assessment in the remote teaching environment.
Tip #1: Be less Taxi, more Uber!
Six years ago, after spending a weekend learning about innovation, technology and entrepreneurship at the Google Teacher Academy, I hailed a taxi to return me to the airport.
Now, I’m a public transport kind of girl and hadn’t taken a taxi in a while, so I was shocked to see the pilot-like cockpit of gadgets and gizmos surrounding the driver. (There were no less than 6 screens!)
The taxi industry was having its Uber moment: They could either keep using the same practices and come up with additional clunky adds-ons and tweaks for old ways (and find themselves with 6 devices attached to their cars) or dare to completely rethink old ways.
When it comes to assessment in the remote teaching environment, we need to be less Taxi and more Uber.
Sure, we can tweak, twist and add on to old assessment practices to make them fit into the online environment, but what if we Ubered them instead?
What if we saw the technology as an opportunity rather than a barrier?
Lessons in Ubering
Rather than engaging in technology to substitute old practices, Uber used it to redefine them.
They started by asking “what outcome do we want?” (e.g. to transport people seamlessly from place to place and get paid well for it) and worked backwards from there.
Keeping their end goal in mind, they then rethought the possibilities of how to achieve this goal.
Literacy assessment in the online world is ripe for this same treatment.
Rather than thinking “I need to do this assessment, how can I do it online?” We need to change our thinking to “I need this information about my students, how could I gather that online?”
Let’s take running records as an example.
Rather than asking:
- ‘How can I do a running record online?’ or
- ‘How can I share the text with my students to do a running record?’
- ‘Why do I want to do a running record?’
- ‘What information am I trying to glean?’
- ‘What are all the possibilities for how I could get this information?’
Tip #2: Teacher judgements need to be elevated
In our accountability focused world, we seem to have forgotten that teaching is a profession and that we, as teachers, can and should make professional judgements about our students and their learning.
Repeat after me: Teacher observations and judgements ARE a valid form of assessment.
Our excessive focus on number crunching and analysis in the last few years, combined with the viral purchase of scripted programs that treat teachers as actors rather than teaching and learning professionals, have both contributed to the devaluing of teacher observations over time.
Contrary to popular practice, we don’t always need a third party’s flashy assessment program or levelling machine or ‘add on’ assessment to tell us what our students’ learning needs are.
Teacher observations, the things we see and hear as we are in the act of teaching our students every day, form a highly valuable source of data around student learning needs.
As I always say: Data isn’t only numbers and any ‘data analysis’ we do must value and include ALL points of data- quantitative AND qualitative.
In the remote teaching environment this means teachers need to develop their ability to ask effective questions, mute their own microphones and truly listen to their students’ responses.
It also means they need to create tasks that will provide them with valuable data about student learning (which brings me to my next tip)…
Tip #3: Rubbish in = Rubbish Out
The learning information that can be gleaned from the tasks teachers set for their students is completely reliant on the quality of the task.
Rubbish in = rubbish out (or, in the online sense: rubbish tasks sent out to students will result in rubbish data/information being sent back in by students).
When setting tasks for students, teachers need to ask themselves ‘what will I learn about my students if they fully engage with this task?’
Let’s take two reading tasks for example:
Read through the text from this comprehension workbook and answer all the questions.
Read through your independent reading book and record your thoughts and wonderings about the main character and their actions in the text.
After reading through student responses to task 1, the teacher would have a good idea of which students were able to answer the set questions correctly and which ones weren’t.
After reading through the responses to task 2, the teacher would have a much more comprehensive understanding of just how deeply each student was able to make connections with or inferences about the main character and the broader themes of the book. Also, because it’s a self-selected text, they could glean information about student reading preferences, abilities and engagement.
Taking the time to set quality tasks reduces reliance on summative assessments closer to report writing time as teachers who engage in ongoing formative assessment develop deeper knowledge of their students’ strengths and needs.
To reference my favourite formative assessment quote:
“When the chef tastes the soup, it is formative; when the guests taste the soup, it is summative.”–(Bob Stake cited in Hattie, 2012)
Followed by this beauty from John Hattie (2012)
“Serving poor soup to the guests is probably the best indicator that the cook was lousy at tasting it during the preparations.”
My final two assessment tips address the following question:
“How can we assess effectively if we aren’t sure about the ownership of the work?” (I.e how do we know what the parents’ work vs what is the students’ work?)
Tip #4- Bring parents on as partners
In this year’s first round of remote teaching many schools realised their parents hadn’t really been partners in learning: they had no knowledge of the lingo of school and they found terms such as ‘learning intentions’ and ‘success criteria’ to be foreign, unfriendly and downright confusing.
In remote learning 2.0, where assessment seems to have a stronger focus, many teachers are expressing frustration at the number of parents who are overhelping or even doing their child’s work for them.
I’ve been in Zoom sessions myself where a comprehension question has been asked and the parent sitting off to the side of the camera feeds their child a response.
Yes, it’s frustrating. But we have to understand the place this is coming from; It’s not usually about getting a higher mark for their child, it’s often a desperate desire to help their child to understand, combined with a lack of knowledge of effective strategies for doing so.
The lesson to be learned here is that schools need to teach parents HOW to help their children.
We are the professionals in this equation.
This is our bread and butter: it’s our job to understand how students learn and what is and isn’t helpful for them.
It’s time we let parents in on some of these secrets.
An opportunity exists here for schools to create a short video or information sheet or even run a parent Zoom session, to arms parents with more effective strategies to help their children to learn.
That is what parents as partners in the learning really looks like!
Tip #5- Focus on the process rather than the product
In addition to building parent knowledge of effective helping practices, a focus on process over product can be useful for addressing these questions.
Rather than assessing a student on the final piece of writing they submit at the end of your genre unit, have them submit a draft, their final piece and a reflection on their learning across the unit (either written or verbally recorded).
Back in my Google Teacher Academy days, we used to talk about asking students ‘non-Googleable’ questions; Those questions that couldn’t be answered in a single google search and forced students to look inside themselves and discover their own thoughts.
In this same vein, we need to consider ‘non-parentable’ questions now.
Less ‘what did…?’ questions and more ‘why did…’ ones.
If tightening up explicit teaching was the ‘golden opportunity’ of the first round of remote teaching, I’d gladly argue for effective questioning to be the golden opportunity of the second round.
Not only will a focus on process over product reduce the temptation for unwanted parental intervention on final products, it will help students to develop the capacity to reflect on their own learning and build stronger student agency.
That’s a win, win!
Where to from here?
My advice for teachers around assessments and end of year reporting is this:
Take the time now to look at the curriculum outcomes you’ll be expected to report on later in the year.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- If I had to give each student in my class a progression point this week, which outcomes would I feel confident assigning?
- For which curriculum outcomes have I regularly tasted the soup? (In which areas do I know my students’ capacities well?)
- Which curriculum outcomes are at risk of being served cold? (In which areas don’t I know much about my students’ skills and knowledge?)
Once you have this information, you can start to plan quality teaching and learning tasks to help you fill the information gap now, while you still have time to learn about your students.
- How have you approached assessment in the remote teaching environment?
- Have you created any resources you could share with other teachers for bringing parents on as partners in the learning process?
- Let us know in the comments below or share your thoughts, ideas and questions on the Oz Lit Teacher Facebook group.