I now see that selected response assessments can play an important and valuable role in developing assessment for learning strategies, even in a language arts classroom. It’s not that I wasn’t using selected response assessments in the past. Indeed, I regularly assessed vocabulary acquisition using matching and occasionally evaluated reading comprehension using multiple-choice questions, though I typically rely heavily upon written response to gauge student achievement. Selected response (SR) assessment was typically used as a summative assessment; students either got it or they didn’t. So it’s what wasn’t happening after students were given a selected response assessment that I need to look at. While I would do a quick reteach of what was missed, typically in the form of a mini-lecture, I wasn’t using that information systematically to support students that “didn’t get it”. In other words, I wasn’t addressing the three essential questions that students must ask “Where am I going?”; “Where am I now?”; and “How do I close the gap?” (Chappuis, Stiggins, Chappuis, Arter, 2012, p. 148)
Where am I going?
I chose to analyze a unit on African folktale writing that I developed last year with an eye towards Figure 5.7 in Chappuis, et. al. (2012) “Assessment for Learning with Selected Response Methodology” (p. 149). The first thing I did was to create an Assessment Map; this helps me to frame my thinking around matching my assessment target to an appropriate assessment method, a task that I had not undertaken in the past. As you can see, my assessments tend to be written response and often incorporate the creation of a product as a part of the summative assessment. I decided to include both formative and summative assessments in my map so that there would be a visual representation of the scaffolding in learning targets associated with this unit. I would rewrite the learning targets into student friendly language as the following questions:
- What vocabulary is important to know about folktales?
- What are the different kinds of folktales?
- What are common themes in folktales?
- What are the common lessons to be learned in African folktales?
- What lessons are in African folktales that are also found in folktales that we know?
- How can I write my own unique African folktale?
- How can I publish my African folktale?
Since this unit is designed for seventh grade students, I would have the students work with a partner to craft an initial proposition “…statements of important facts, concepts, or understanding that students would be accountable for learning” (Chappuis, et al. 2012, p. 130) for each vocabulary word. One strategy that I like to use is to have pairs of students draw a picture and use a vocabulary word in a sentence as a visual representation of what the vocabulary word means; the vocabulary words would be evenly distribute throughout pairs of students. Afterwards, we would do a whole class sharing. I monitor pair progress providing feedback as to accuracy in usage and meaning of their sentences before students are allowed to draw their corresponding picture. In other words, their sentence has to demonstrate conceptual understanding before moving on. Another idea would be to have students craft their proposition as a statement using an example. It could look like this; “An example of a fairy tale is Cinderella because there is magic involved when Cinderella’s coach is turned into a pumpkin at midnight”.
Where am I now?
This is an example of the SR test that I used for my initial assessment of student’s acquisition of knowledge specifically related to folktale vocabulary and types of folktales (Vocab-Types_Quiz). Originally, the SR assessment was solely matching, but I re-worked the types of folktales to be fill-in-the-blank; in hindsight I feel it was too easy for students to simply memorize the answers without being able to identify the key differences. While this appears to be a fairly straightforward, initial formative assessment, some of my English Language Learners (ELL) had difficulty actually applying their knowledge. Just because they could correctly match a vocabulary word to its’ definition, doesn’t mean that they truly understand the concept.
Honest self-assessment and goal setting is key for students to understand where they’re at in their learning. In my practice, a high proportion of ELL students necessitate a simple self-assessment process and the simpler the better, otherwise students get bogged-down trying to translate the very tool intended to help them! I see this as a conversation that would happen before returning the SR assessment ”Turn to your neighbor and explain what motif means” and so on. As some students would inevitably struggle with this task, I would remind them to “Be honest!” on their self-evaluation sheet. I would remind them that just because they got a correct answer on their assessment, I still expect them to be able to apply their knowledge. Students would know the importance of knowledge application because they could see the progression of learning targets on their assessment map.
Their self-assessment sheet would be a modification of Figure 5.9 (p. 152) where students use the following prompts to analyze their results and set goals to work towards closing the gap:
I am good at these!
(Vocabulary I got right)
I am pretty good at these but need to do a little review
(What I can do to keep this from happening again)
I need to keep learning these
(What I can do to get better at them)
I would conduct a short, informal conference with each student as they worked through their self-assessment to ensure that their goals for “getting better” are realistic and achievable. I think it’s important to occasionally refer back to self-assessment goals, so we would revisit this sheet during “How can I close the gap” activities.
How can I close the gap?
Inarguable, these knowledge-based learning targets represent just a fraction of the learning targets represented in this unit. Yet, if students don’t know what a motif is, how can they utilize a common motif when they create their own African folktale? If students don’t understand the difference between a Fool’s Tale and a Tall Tale, they will have limited options when creating their own unique folktale, or will not actually create a folktale that uses a folktale type (this was the case with one of my students!) Chappuis, et. al. (2012) recommend “designing lessons to focus on one learning target or aspect of quality at a time” (p. 153). This could happen through peer support. I typically pair or group students heterogeneously, mixing students that need support with students that are proficient. As we continue to read different African folktales, I would continue to set classifying types of folktales as one of the tasks for students that needed practice; they would then check with their more knowledgeable peer before doing a quick whole-class check as part of our discussion. Since each folktale that we would be reading is most likely unique to all students, even those that are proficient would be challenged to continuously apply their knowledge. I’m often surprised at the number of times that I think a student is proficient, but given a unique situation, needs support. This practice would give me a good quick check of all students’ understanding.
I found that going through this process of creating an assessment map, selected response assessment and thinking about ways to help students answer their essential learning questions incredibly useful, albeit difficult and time consuming. Looking forward, I would like to be able to develop selected response assessments that are more complex and could be based on reasoning learning targets as well as knowledge-based targets, though I feel this was a good first-time effort. One hope that I have is that when I return to teaching in a regular classroom setting, I will somehow be able to streamline this process so that it is not so time consuming. I think this will come through further practice and application; as I become more proficient I should be able to find efficient ways to work through this essential practice.