I plan to explore self-assessment with my blogs this year. One of my favorite things about writing for this blog is that it causes me to reflect and formalize my own thinking about assessment topics. Maybe it is all of the talk about resolutions, or the fact that my own resolutions have not quite taken hold (Sorry elliptical machine! I promise to visit you soon!), or this looming birthday of mine, but the pulls of both reflection and action are pretty strong right now. So at the risk of sounding like a poor motivational speaker, I would like to issue a challenge to all educators to use self-assessment themselves to think about their own assessment practices.
Three Profound Questions
The most profound questions that I have found in my own study and work in the area of assessment, beyond the PLC essential questions, have been these three questions:
- Where do I want to go?
- Where am I now?
- How do I close the gap between the two?
Every educator should ask themselves those questions about their own assessment practices. After determining the steps between where we are and where we want to be, identify a first step and take it. Self-efficacy is both believing that I can accomplish something and take the action steps to make it happen. We as educators have to make sure that we both believe and act. Author John Hattie found that the effect sizes of teacher collective efficacy (1.57), cognitive task analysis (1.29), and student self-regulation (0.52) are some of the strongest influences on student achievement.
Challenge is an opportunity
Closing the whole gap can feel overwhelming and scary. Jim Collins writes about how “good” can be “the enemy of the great.” I would also argue that our desire to be perfect can be the enemy of taking risks or trying anything new. Educators inherently feel the pressure of providing students with the best possible learning experiences that is far beyond any accountability system ever created. As a result, we can feel paralyzed by trying something new or different until we feel completely prepared to accomplish it perfectly. When I am confronted by something new or unfamiliar, I find comfort in books. There are plenty of books out there, including those listed below, that help make these concepts clear and achievable.
I would challenge every educator to spend some time in self-assessment about their own assessment practices, and to think about where they want to be, either individually or collectively. Then we must identify that first step toward that destination.
If you are not sure where to start, think about an upcoming instructional unit. Look at the standards and content in that unit and identify what is important, hard to teach and hard for students to learn. That helps to narrow the focus and shine a light on that path. Spend time thinking about how to assess that content, both summatively and formatively. Look at your existing assessments and create that balanced assessment plan that maximizes student learning. Find a way to collaborate with other teachers of that content using either people who work in your system or finding colleagues through social media. For as maligned as social media can be, it does provide an opportunity for everyone to find ways to collaborate, so use it.
Become the educator you need to be
Self-assessment is a powerful strategy and we should model it as the adult learners in our educational system. Use the practices of self-assessment to determine where you are on your journey toward using effective assessment practices. Take a step toward the assessment practices that you want to use and the type of educator that you want to be. Do not be afraid of not being perfect in every action you take. Make the commitment to learn from the practices and to use what you learn to do better next time. Find a colleague to share your successes and challenges.
Use this quote from Maya Angelou to guide your journey, “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”
We will all be trying to both know better and do better for this year and beyond.
Collins, J. (2001). Good to Great. New York: Harper Collins.
Erkens, C. (2016). Collaborative Common Assessments: Teamwork. Instruction. Results. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.
Erkens, C., Schimmer, Tom, and Vagle, Nicole D. (2017). Essential Assessment: Six Tenets for Bringing Hope, Efficacy, and Achievement to the Classroom. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.
Hattie, J. (2009). Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement. New York: Routledge.
Vagle, Nicole D. (2015). Design in Five: Essential Phases to Create Engaging Assessment Practice. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.