Is assessment really all about grades? To one educator of over 20 years, assessment can also serve as a tool to deepen and enrich students’ learning. She shares with us how she uses assessment to empower her students to take charge of their own learning in the classroom.
When Mdm M’chelle Chan, Level Head (Science) at South View Primary School, was teaching a class of higher-progress learners in 2014, she often found herself thinking about how she could keep her students engaged during lessons.
“These learners have very high levels of curiosity and would lose interest in learning if I only carried out frontal teaching or distributed pen-and-paper assessments during lessons,” she shares.
Moreover, she is also cognizant that today’s students, irrespective of learning ability, would only find the learning experience meaningful if they see value in what they are learning.
So what did M’chelle do to engage and motivate her students during lessons? Involve them in the assessment process.
Assessment as a Learning Tool
While summative assessments measure the outcome of learning, student-involved assessments, which include peer- and self-assessment, facilitate learning by helping students track their progress and identify learning gaps. The process, rather than the product of learning, is the focus.
“For example, during my Science lessons, I provide checklists to my students and ask them to self-evaluate their understanding of a concept as part of self-assessment,” M’chelle says. “I then guide my students with reviewing the information they have gathered from the checklists and ask them to think about how they would close their learning gaps.”
M’chelle believes it is important for students to not only be aware of their learning gaps, but also devise strategies to address these gaps to encourage them to take ownership of their learning.
“As a teacher, my role is not limited to providing interventions and clarifying misconceptions. I also listen to my students’ suggestions on how they would bridge their learning gaps and advise them on whether their strategies would be effective,” M’chelle adds.
“As a teacher, my role is not limited to providing interventions and clarifying misconceptions. I also listen to my students’ suggestions on how they would bridge their learning gaps and advise them on whether their strategies would be effective.”
– M’Chelle Chan, South View Primary School
Learning from Peers and Improved Engagement
Apart from surfacing learning gaps, student-involved assessment can also give learners the opportunity to critique and learn from their peers.
“For peer assessment, I focus on the application of concepts such as energy conversion and use the online platform Padlet where students demonstrate their ability to apply their learning,” shares M’chelle. “For instance, students can post a photo of a household appliance on Padlet and describe energy conversion in it.”
They are also able to read their classmates’ write-ups and provide feedback on the accuracy of the contents. Many of M’chelle’s students were eager to work on this task and some even uploaded videos of themselves playing the piano to illustrate the concept of energy conversion.
“This shows that involving students in assessment can make the learning process more engaging, especially if they see relevance in the activity,” M’chelle adds.
Reliability of Student-Involved Assessment
Nonetheless, student-involved assessment practices can only have a meaningful impact on students’ learning if students themselves are clear about what is expected of them during the process.
“This means that when I provide a self-assessment checklist, I must ensure the descriptors are clear to students and that they understand the terms that are used in the checklist before getting them to carry out the self-assessment. Otherwise, the information derived from the self-assessment exercise will not be reliable,” M’chelle explains.
Moreover, classroom social dynamics can also affect the effectiveness of peer assessment. “While students are supposed to assess the work of their peers and not of their peers themselves, we cannot always prevent a situation where students do the latter instead,” M’chelle explains.
To ensure that students carry out peer assessment objectively, M’chelle recommends that teachers consider the social dynamics between students when grouping them.
In addition, teachers also play a key role in promoting a learning culture where students are receptive to feedback and do not fear making mistakes. “In doing so, students would be more forthcoming about their learning gaps and willing to listen to their peers’ feedback,” M’chelle explains.
Tailoring Assessment Activities
M’chelle believes that most students can participate in student-involved assessment, as long as teachers tailor the activities to suit their learning profiles.
“For example, the way I carry out peer assessment in a Primary 6 class would differ from that in a Primary 3 class. Students in the former generally possess higher cognitive and maturity levels and are thus better able to provide constructive feedback than students in the latter,” explains M’chelle. “With younger learners, it helps to provide them with checklists or rubrics with observable, clear and specific descriptors.”
Besides the age of students, teachers should also consider their strengths and weaknesses when planning student-involved assessment activities. “If I were teaching students who are not proficient in English language, for instance, I would minimize or modify assessments that demand language competency. This would make the assessment process more manageable for them,” M’chelle adds.
Impact of Student-Involved Assessment on Learners and Teachers
Since incorporating student-involvement assessment practices into her lessons, M’chelle observed that her students have generally become more responsible and self-directed learners.
“In previous years, students may remark that how much they learn depends on their parents and teachers. Today, many recognize that their learning in fact depend on their attitudes as well as how they approach revision,” M’chelle shares.
Apart from students, teachers can also benefit from information derived from student-involved assessments. “When I review my students’ work on Padlet, for example, I also find out how well my students understand the topic or concept. This allows me to decide on the appropriate follow-up for subsequent lessons,” she elaborates.
Ultimately, when students are empowered to take ownership of their learning and are engaged in the learning process, they will find meaning and purpose in their education.