Tag Archives: assessment

Articulating Effective Learning Goals

“When instructors do not clearly articulate their goals, it is difficult for students to know what (or how) to practice.” Susan Ambrose in How Learning Works

As teachers and students enter final exam or benchmark season it’s important to remember a key concept in assessment creation: articulating effective learning goals. These goals, also called objectives, help inform students about what they are supposed to do when they encounter a task. In the book How Learning Works: 7 Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching, Susan Ambrose and her co-authors explain the importance of using learning objectives to help students have success in class. Objectives can appear in curriculum documents, with project instructions when handed out to students, or in a rubric that is given to students before they begin work on an assessment. “Learning objectives,” explain the authors, “articulate the knowledge and skills you want students to acquire by the end of the course or after completing a particular assignment.” There are numerous advantages to using clearly articulated learning objectives with students:

  1. Communicate intent to students
  2. Provide a framework for organizing course content
  3. Help guide decisions about appropriate teaching and learning activities

Numerous studies have shown that the use of objectives can positively impact student learning. One study from the 1970s found that students who were given specific goals when they were learning from a text paid more attention to passages that were relevant to their goals and hence learned those passages better as they read. Another study conducted a few years ago found that creating a rubric and sharing it with students before they work on an assignment led to better outcomes in terms of the quality of work produced and in the students’ knowledge of the qualities associated with good work (Ambrose et al. 128-130).

An old friend named Benjamin Bloom can help educators create learning objectives through the action verbs contained in his taxonomy. For example, a sample end-of-course learning objective for a dance class shared in How Learning Works could ask students to “execute different choreographic styles” or in an engineering class it could ask students to “analyze simple circuits that include resistors and capacitors.” Bloom’s taxonomy was created in the 1950s and represents six levels of intellectual behavior organized from low-level to high. Action verbs developed by Bloom can help educators create learning objectives that focus on concrete actions and behaviors. “Furthermore,” the authors in How Learning Works explain, “using action verbs reduces ambiguity in what it means to ‘understand.'”

Here is a chart of sample verbs from How Learning Works using Bloom’s Taxonomy:

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Another proponent of using clearly articulated learning goals with students was Grant Wiggins, who passed away a few days ago from a heart condition. In fact, identifying goals is the first step in Wiggins’s theory of curriculum development. I was shocked when I saw a tweet from his daughter sharing the sad news. Wiggins had such a profound impact on my life as an educator with the theory of backward planning he set forth in his book Understanding by Design. However, it was through his blog “Granted, and…” that I felt like I really got to know Wiggins and his philosophy. His blog was a must read for me. In fact, over the past couple of years, I considered his blog the most important resource for educators on the web. His clear prose and ability to publish thought-provoking blog posts every week was inspirational. He was an intellectual leader and champion for good teaching. He will obviously be missed. So, in honor of Wiggins, take a look at a recent assignment given to students. Were you clear in what you expected students to do? In other words, did your instructions to students contain clearly-articulated learning goals (and yes, a rubric really is just a collection of these) that explained what you wanted them to learn?

Something For Your Teaching Toolbox

Just a quick post to share a formative assessment strategy from one of the greats. This is from Carol Jago’s fantastic book With Rigor For All and is one of the more interesting ways9780325042107 I’ve come across to assess student understanding of reading. Since it’s now almost March, it’s also that time of the year when a new teaching strategy can energize you and your classroom. So, here’s a quick one for your teaching toolbox.

In With Rigor for All, Jago describes a method she has used to check for reading comprehension without resorting to a conventional multiple choice quiz. She starts class by telling students to “close their eyes and visualize the most powerful image they remember from last night’s reading” (58). Then she has students fold a piece of paper into four squares and quickly complete a four-step process to describe the scene.

  • In the first box, students draw a picture of a powerful image from what they read;
  • In the second box, students put their picture into words;
  • In the third box, students imagine they are professors of literature and write a brief lecture to a college class describing the scene they drew;
  • In the fourth box, students write a poem describing or responding to the scene they selected.

It’s clear that for students to be able to complete this task, they will have had to read the text. More importantly, questions like the four Jago used with her students will give a teacher a more complete picture of student understanding than they would have acquired from a standard quiz. A teacher will be able to see what scenes resonated with students and how they are responding to the action in the story. Teachers can then adjust instruction based on this robust student feedback. An activity like this might also get students to engage a little more closely with a text since they are the ones determining what is important in the story, not the teacher. Indeed, for Jago, this kind of assessment empowers students with choice. “Students,” Jago writes, “explored a scene from the level that they–rather than I–found powerful” (59). Choice, creativity, artistic interpretation, analysis, informational writing, poetry–all in one simple formative assessment.

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Source:

Jago, Carol. With Rigor for All: Meeting Common Core Standards for Reading Literature. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2011. Print.

Our Big Read (Chapter One)

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This year, the teachers and administrators in our high school decided to participate in a big read. The Big Read was originally a program sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts to promote literacy in a community. The idea behind a big read is for people from diverse backgrounds to come together and discuss a text. Our high school decided to try a modified version of this with teachers and administrators. So, today, over 150 people came together to begin reading our selected book and discuss teaching strategies. Our book this year is Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger III, and Mark A. McDaniel. Make It Stick is a book about how we learn and the many strategies that can be implemented to help people become more productive learners. In my opinion, it is essential reading for anyone in education interested in improving how they organize lessons for students and how they assess student understanding.

Over the course of the year on this blog, I’ll describe how we discussed the text as we read it and the ways it might influence how we teach. Today, our five departments in the high school spent two hours reading the first chapter and discussing its contents in small and large groups. The humanities department used the following questions based on chapter one to guide reading and discussion:

  • Why is learning misunderstood?
  • How do schools get learning wrong?
  • How do schools get learning right?
  • Why do the authors say, “learning is an acquired skill, and the most effective strategies are often counterintuitive”?
  • How does the myth of repetitive practice influence our teaching?
  • Do you agree with Einstein that “creativity is more important than knowledge”?
  • What is the power of active retrieval?
  • How can what you learned in chapter one influence your teaching this week?

Like the humanities department, the STEM department also focused their discussions on finding specific strategies from the reading that can be implemented in classrooms and sharing those strategies with their groups.

For many of us, our big takeaway from chapter one was understanding that learning can be difficult, and in many respects should be difficult–with students being allowed to learn from mistakes. Letting students grapple with difficult concepts prior to instruction can lead to lasting benefits in terms of how material is remembered. Not to spoil things for our big read community, but I’ve become fascinated with the research of the Harvard psychologist B. F. Skinner who becomes a minor figure later in the book. In my opinion, his concept of “errorless learning“–the idea that errors are not necessary for learning to occur–has exerted a great influence in the field of education as many teachers (myself included) can sometime shy away from allowing students to make mistakes and then learn from them. After reading chapter one, many people I talked with felt that adjusting their instruction to bring more problem solving to their classrooms might benefit students as it will encourage them to take chances as they solve problems and learn from the mistakes they might make in the process. I have already received e-mails from teachers who are beginning to tweak their lessons to incorporate a more generative approach to instruction with lessons based on traditional problem- and project-based learning models or by using a SOLE lesson with their classes.

Make It Stick has had a profound impact on how I think about teaching and learning. I’m excited that our teachers and administrators will begin using the book throughout the year to serve as a framework for how we discuss instruction and assessment. I’ll update the blog with how we’re using it during the year and the types of questions it raises during discussions. I really think Make It Stick is one of the most important books about learning that has been written in some time.

Some Quick Ways to Check for Everyone’s Understanding

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In a recent article in ASCD’s Educational Leadership, Dylan Wiliam writes about  ways teachers can ask the right questions the right way. In the article, Wiliam recounts perhaps the most familiar way teachers formatively asses their students. A teacher asks a question to the class and picks a student who sits eagerly waving a hand in the air. The teacher and that student interact and the class moves on. This cycle is repeated in classrooms across the country. Wiliam calls this method “the standard classroom transaction model or I-R-E (for initiation-response-evaluation).” It’s not that this method is bad, it’s just that more effective models exist. For Wiliam, “just about every aspect of this scenario actually gets in the way of learning–and it doesn’t provide enough information on what most students in the class know and need to learn.” The goal in every class should be to assess all students every 20-30 minutes of instructional time. Some traditional ways to do this are by having students use dry-erase boards to write answers, thumbs up/thumbs down, entrance/exit slips, and short, timed writing assignments. While these methods are tried and true and will work great in your classrooms, I thought it might be a good opportunity to illustrate some new tools that might change the way you assess. In this post, I’ll link to some amazing tech-savvy ways that teachers can check for everyone’s understanding.

All-Student Responses (without paying for clickers!)

When people hear about all-student response systems, they immediately think of clickers. However, there’s a host of free services teachers can use that will get the job done just as Unknownwell–and maybe with a bit more style. I’ve written about tools like Socrative, PollEverywhere, EduCanan, and TodaysMeet in previous posts. These four sites are great for generating instant student feedback during a class in different ways. For example, Socrative works great with objective-type questions while EduCanan allows users to embed questions into videos. But, if you’re looking to add targeted questions to your daily classroom routine, perhaps the best all-student response system I’ve seen recently is Nearpod.

Nearpod lets teachers upload or create presentations and add questions within the presentation for students to answer. Students log on to Nearpod with a teacher-generated access code and the presentation becomes available on their device. Students can answer questions as they appear on their screens from multiple-choice questions to open-ended  responses. This data gets transmitted to the teacher in real time. Nearpod is quickly becoming perhaps the most-used online assessment tool in our high school. The teachers at our school who discovered this deserve a TON of credit. Nearpod amazes.

How To Assess Quickly

The reality is that not every class will work with a Nearpod presentation or TodaysMeet backchannel. If you’re short on time and computers, there are a few methods you can employ to “assess all.” Dylan Wiliam explains perhaps the simplest way for teachers to improve classroom questioning is to stop asking for volunteers. Wiliam calls this method “No Hands Up.” popsicle_stick_namesThe traditional way to call on students during no hands up is to use names on popsicle sticks. Ask the question, then pick a stick at random and that’s the student who has to answer the question. This forces all students to think of answers in anticipation of being called on. Sometimes I think we don’t give students enough time to think of answers when we’re teaching. I know I’m guilty of sometimes choosing the first hand that gets raised. By giving students time to wait after you have asked a question and then select a candidate, slower learners will have time to formulate an authentic answer. While popsicle sticks certainly work, are there any cool apps or websites out there we can use to pick students? You bet there are!

There are many student randomizers available online. iLeap’s Pick A Student is free and is a very basic app to use. There are other versions that, for a dollar or two, offer better screen480x480graphics and more fun. HAT by Cool Classroom Software ($.99) is one that allows teachers to select names out of a virtual hat using their device. Students aren’t repeated until everyone in the class has been called on. Another interesting possibility is a web-based service called Random Name Picker. This website features a giant spinning wheel where you can add all the names of students in your class. Click to give the wheel a spin; whoever is selected has to answer the question. I’ve thrown in some names from our department on the wheel. Maybe the first person selected has to write a post for Randolphhum?

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During a lesson, think about trying to hear all your students’ voices. In his ASCD article, Wiliam writes about one teacher who described this assessment process as “making the students’ voices louder and making the teacher’s hearing better.” That sounds great to me. Regardless of whether you’re picking names out of a real hat or a virtual one, if you assess all students in your classes regularly, you’re bound to become a better listener.