The Strength of Weak Ties

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Aerial Photographs, Coverage and Assessment

I just found myself hyperlinked out into the blogosphere via one of Wes Fryer's posts to this post on Assessment vs. Engagement from Tech Chick Tips.

This stopped me in my tracks: "We spend so much time on assessment that I wonder if we really cover content."

There are a couple of things that bother me with this statement-covering content and spending too much time on assessment.

Lets begin with the notion of covering content. When I was a student teacher, my cooperating teacher used to take anyone to task for uttering those words. I can just hear him: "cover the content, what, are you going to fly over it and take aerial photographs?"

Did you cover the content or did they learn it? How do you know?

The answer: assessment

In most classrooms, teachers do not spend enough time with assessment. That's right, more assessment is needed in most classrooms. Not only more-but the right kind. That's the problem-not enough quality assessment FOR learning opportunities that provide students with appropriate and timely feedback and teachers with the necessary data to help them understand the impact of their teaching, what needs to be corrected, and whether or not students actually learned the content-and that it was not just covered.

How many times have I heard this at finals time (the summative experience)? I don't understand why all these kids got this question wrong. We covered it in class."

Well, you covered it but they didn't learn it.

Let me be the first to call for a world-wide ban on covering content.

Consider the typical high school classroom assessment tools: the worksheet, the quiz, and the scantron test. Throw in an occasional essay, and some project work and you're good.

Pass out the worksheet to three classes of 25 kids. Let's say there are 10 questions. That's 750 questions that the teacher has to read. In my work, I see teachers huddled over stacks of worksheets grading and grading and grading. These get passed back four days later and its much too late for that assignment (note that I didn't use the word assessment) to do any good, in terms of providing useful feedback to the learner and the teacher.

Let me be the first to call for a world-wide ban on the use of worksheets.

Teachers complain about the lack of time they have-and its true. But how much is wasted on ineffective and time-consuming "assessments." It's a real problem...

Anyway, do we really spend too much time on assessment? The original point being made in the post at Tech Chick Tips was focused on standardized testing as assessment. I don't think we spend too much time on that kind of assessment, we spend too much time teaching the wrong way, the way that hasn't worked for so long now, and that includes teaching too much content!


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