Assessment is an extremely essential and integral part of the teaching and learning process. “Assessment for Learning is the process of seeking and interpreting evidence for use by learners and their teachers to decide where the learners are in their learning, where they need to go and how best to get there.” (Assessment Reform Group, 2002, para. 1). The assessment for learning process focuses its’ attention on the needs of the learner and how best to meet those needs, as opposed to the assessment in learning process which focuses on assessing the current knowledge that the students possess.
In The Art of Evaluation, Fenwick and Parsons state that
Assessment for learning stems from the belief that assessment should represent more than a summative evaluation of what has been learned, but should be used by the learner and teacher to track and plan future learnings and is, thus, an important part of learning itself. (p. 157).
They go on to explain that assessment for learning needs to occur during the learning process and will not be effective if completed after the learning has occurred. This process focuses its’ attention on building an open and honest communicating relationship between the instructor and student, therefore, it must be interactive and both instructor and student need to engage in the process. The overarching goal of assessment for learning is to facilitate learning independence in order to improve the quality of work produced by the student. (Fenwick & Parsons, 2009).
Like any effective process, assessment for learning is based upon guiding principles. Guiding principles act as a foundation upon which instructors should implement the assessment for learning process, therefore, they serve as a best practices template. The principles, introduced to me in The Art of Evaluation, state:
- Assessment for learning should be part of effective planning of teaching and learning.
- Assessment for learning should focus on how learners learn.
- Assessment for learning is central to classroom practice.
- Assessment for learning is an important professional teaching skill.
- Assessment for learning should consider the importance of individual learner motivations.
- Assessment for learning should build a commitment to learning goals and an understanding of the criteria used to assess these goals.
- Learners should receive constructive guidance about how to improve.
- Assessment for learning helps learners self-assess their own work.
- Assessment for learning should honour a wide range of learner achievements.
(Fenwick & Parsons, 2009, p. 161-167)
The point that really resonated with me, regarding assessment for learning, is that the intention is to fully engage the student within the process in order for them to develop independence in their learning. Although I have always felt that it is the students’ responsibility to take control and make the most of their learning experiences, I don’t think I ever realized just how much of an impact the instructor-student relationship could have on this process. Instructors and students need to have a good communicating relationship in order for the students to get the most out of their learning experiences. If an instructor and student do not have a relationship in which communication and feedback are openly accepted, then the assessment for learning process will not be effective.
Not only is it important that there be a good communicating relationship between instructor and student, but both the instructor and student need to realize that this process does not happen on its own. Both the instructor and student need to diligently work together in order for assessment for learning to be effective. Instructors must realize that students need to take ownership over their learning and that no amount of effective teaching will matter if the student is unwilling to engage in the process.
The other main take-away, that I have acquired through the readings, is that assessment for learning is focused on improving students’ quality of work. In The Art of Evaluation, Fenwick and Parsons explain that “this approach is based on the belief that learners will improve if and when they understand the goal of their learning, when they accept and can relate to this goal, and when they engage this goal dynamically”. (2009, p. 159). It is, therefore, of the utmost importance that students understand how each of their courses will help them to reach their goals. As an instructor, I need to ensure that the students in my courses have an understanding about how each of the evaluation tools that I use will also work towards meeting these goals. Without this understanding, students will not be prepared to fully engage in the process of assessment for learning.
Due to the fact that assessment for learning is dependent on having an effective communicating relationship, between instructor and student, it is necessary for the instructor to start the process of developing this relationship from the very first moment that they begin working with the student. Creating a positive and trusting environment within your classroom is one of the first steps in this process. In order to do this, I start by creating classroom rules during our first class together. I also spend time going over my expectations of the students and give them a chance to express what their goals are for that particular course that I’m teaching. I share with the students that, while I may be the content expert in the room, there may come a time when I am unable to answer a question posed by a student. I make a promise to the students that, if and when this does occur, I will write down the question they have posed, research it, and provide an answer for them during the next class. I believe that this shows the students that I am committed to the teaching process and that I am invested in helping them reach their learning goals. I share with my students that I have an open door policy and that if they ever see me in the office, and they have a question, just to pop in. I provide my students with all of my contact information and let them know the best ways and time in which they can reach me. I inform the students that I will be providing frequent feedback throughout the course, not just on the evaluation tools that will be used. I believe the above steps are necessary in order to build that trusting relationship with the students right from the beginning. Once that relationship has been established then implementing the assessment for learning process can really begin.
Some strategies, that Fenwick and Parsons (2009) suggest using in assessment for learning, that I have implemented in my own classroom include; analyzing past students works in order to examine why these works are considered superior, working in conjunction with students to establish the need for rubrics and facilitating the process of evaluating their own work in comparison to these rubrics, and encouraging students to peer evaluate each others’ assignments in relation to the rubrics. Going through these processes with the students allows me to offer effective feedback to the students when they need it the most, during the learning experience. “Effective feedback is honest, considerate, descriptive, specific, and timely.” (Fenwick & Parsons, 2009, p. 163).
It can easily be seen that assessment for learning is an essential part of teaching especially if we, as instructors, are to inspire and facilitate our students into becoming life-long learners. Assessment for learning does not happen by chance, and it is easy to see that it takes time and effort by both the instructor and the student.
I have always been diligent about working with the students who openly express their goals to me, however, in the past I may have failed to fully meet the needs of other students who weren’t as open about communicating their needs. This could be in part due to the fact that I held an assumption that these students just weren’t that interested in the course I was teaching and that they were only enrolled in it due to program requirements. In the future it is necessary for me to ensure that each student has an understanding about how each of their courses will help them to reach their goals, after all, courses within a program are strategically designed in order to meet the overarching goals within their designated program. I understand now that there may have been barriers that prevented the above mentioned students from engaging in this interactive process with me. Going forward, I am now aware that I need to engage in this process with each and every one of my students in order for them to get the most out of the courses I am teaching. I wholeheartedly agree with the statement made by Doug Mauger, in the Assessment for Learning video, that “assessment for learning is a professional obligation”. (EdDlaoshi, 2008).
Assessment Reform Group. (2002). Key Questions. In Introduction to Assessment for Learning online learning module. Retrieved from http://www.assessmentforlearning.edu.au/professional_learning/intro_to_afl/introduct ion_key_questions.html
EdDlaosi [screen name]. (2008, Feb. 24). Assessment for Learning . Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3BFGwg9vGJc
Fenwick, T. & Parsons, J. (2009). The art of evaluation: A resource for educators and trainers, second edition. Toronto, ON: Thompson Educational Publishing, Inc.