Method A works. Pedagogy B doesn’t. Approach C, somewhat. Being able to evaluate our own teaching effectiveness gives us insights into which techniques help students learn and which do not. This also enables teachers to foster in students the habit of lifelong learning.
From Assessment User to Assessment Literate
Through the years, teachers have been using traditional assessment tools such as projects and pen-and-paper exams to assess students, with much success.
Though these tools are useful and necessary, in truth, they assess the result of how well students remember content knowledge, not whether they have become effective learners. In other words, they serve as useful diagnostic tools of how well students have learned.
With increasing emphasis on 21st century skills, the student today must not only master subject matter to perform well in school assessments, he or she must also be able to evaluate and even create new knowledge – both in and out of school.
This calls for an assessment literate teacher – one who not only understands why assessments are important, but who is also skilled in assessing students and in evaluating the curriculum.
This teacher believes in passing on assessment literacy to students, developing in them the habit of critically thinking about what they learn and the way they learn.
Focusing on Assessment for Learning
Assessing the teacher
Assessment begins with the teacher. The process of self-assessment is vital in providing clear direction on how to improve what we do. It adds to our personal and professional development.
We can assess different facets of our teaching: Does this work? Who does it work for? How can it be improved? Is my attitude correct? Can I learn anything from my peers?
You may like to keep a reflection journal, discuss problems with peers, review lesson plans against the curriculum, or read up on current research and teaching practices.
Whatever method you choose, self-assessment is best carried out on a continual and regular basis as the classroom changes with every class, every cohort and every new policy.
Assessing the curriculum
Assessing the syllabus and curriculum material allows us to understand the intent of the curriculum and use the appropriate assessment tools.
Just like a master mason understands the dynamic relationship between himself and the tools of his trade, the teacher who can clearly assess the curriculum gains better mastery of it.
We can then skilfully wield the tools available to us to better engage our students in learning, effectively marrying the content knowledge with the learning outcomes.
Assessing the student
Traditional assessment tools tell us about a student’s ability to memorize and only at certain points of the year. Learning can be improved through teachers’ continual assessment of students’ progress in learning.
If we pay ongoing attention to student progress, we can clearly see their pattern of growth and adjust our teaching method accordingly.
This paves the way for creating a collaborative learning environment in the classroom, where students assess their own learning process through thinking critically and reflecting on the content.
Forging a Collaborative Learning Classroom
Once a teacher grasps the principle of assessment for learning, assessment literacy can be imparted to students.
Transmitting assessment literacy to students opens the door to further growth. As they learn to assess themselves and what they learn, students shift from being non-participating members to becoming active participants in the classroom.
They will be motivated to co-operate with teachers and participate equally in the classroom. This collaboration allows students to further hone their evaluating and critical thinking skills, especially in classroom discussions.
In time, students who are involved and driven thinkers will naturally become lifelong learners who take responsibility for their own learning.
Fostering a Learning Habit
Assessment literacy gets at the heart of education – it can be more than just instructing and testing. For both the teacher and the student, it is about a continual process of growth.
Teachers who are assessment literate will be able to provide transformational opportunities for their students. It is about enriching learning environments, not just about using assessment tools.
Being assessment literate helps teachers learn how to be better teachers who can then encourage students learn how to be better learners – for life.
National Institute of Education. (2009). A teacher education model for the 21st century. Singapore: Author.