One of the goals in my professional growth plan this year is to improve my own skills in gathering data to guide decision making. Teachers know this, and are hopefully prepared for a small (hopefully) onslaught of data gathering opportunities.
In the last year, we have worked to help develop a sense of trust between staff and administration and between teaching staff members. Traditionally one piece of our classroom support has involved a literacy support teacher being available to help out in a classroom or do small group pull out. Our current teacher will be going out on a maternity leave in less than a month, so we decided to set up that support in a different way. The teacher has been made available on a ‘sign out’ basis to offer a wider variety of supports. Things like:
- Meeting with teachers to discuss students who might need extra support
- Covering a class to allow a teacher to work one-on-one with a student
- Covering a class to allow a teacher to observe another teacher’s’ classroom
- Work with new students to assess their literacy level or cover the class to allow the teacher to do the same.
- And probably a few more ideas we didn’t think of.
We’ve been doing this for a couple of weeks, and I knew that there were a few people who have taken advantage of #3. We have made an assumption that this would be a great opportunity to have teachers see some of the great things that are going on. In addition we have a teacher who is a master at integrating innovative technology ideas into her classroom and have set up two blocks per week where teachers can access her skills in the classroom.
I decided to send out a very short google form that basically asked three questions:
- I have accessed, or plan to access, the Support Teacher’s time to observe in another class
- I would feel comfortable having a colleague observe the great things I am doing in my class
- I have accessed or will access technology expertise in my class
So, here’s the interesting results so far
- The vast majority of people are willing to access the technology expertise in their class
- The vast majority of people are willing to have a colleague observe in their class
- The majority of people do NOT plan on using the time to observe in another class
So, it would appear that teachers are more than willing to have people observe in their class, but are, for whatever reason, less willing to go to another teacher’s class to observe what is going on. Could it be having to plan for someone to cover their class? Fear of being viewed as ‘needing help’? Not seeing the value in a classroom visit?
There is one thing for certain here. Data can lead to a lot more questions than answers! Now I have more research to do!!!
I’m currently on a break during our Provincial Curriculum Committee Meeting. I really like this group as we generally spend part of the time sitting with Alberta Education and talk about what direction we are headed and changes that need to be made.
One of the ideas that came forward today was that the #1 purpose of assessment is to understand and work with students to operate the classroom in a way that benefits students in that it informs teaching and learning decisions. Our approach to assessment, if we keep this definition in mind, doesn’t seem to make sense in light of current practice in Alberta. Assessing an individual student, or a group at the end of a year might inform teaching, but not in the way that benefits that student in a dynamic and powerful way.
There have been times where assessment has been used to compare students and classes, to filter students for future programs, motivate students, plan classroom and school programs, provide information to outside agencies, and other reasons. It could be argued that most reasons for assessment have value, and they probably do. We have to assess. It’s one of the important jobs we do.
No one would disagree that assessment is a necessary part of our job, but unless the assessment directly impacts the student assessed, I believe it is not serving its full and best purpose. There is some talk in Alberta to looking more towards testing the younger students at the beginning of the year because that would more directly drive the teaching in a way that impacts the students writing the test. This approach would inform the teacher about each student’s strengths and the areas of need. This type of assessment seems to be empowering, rather than based on looking for teacher or student skill gaps which can’t be easily addressed.
A lot of assessment though, can only occur at the ground level – Teachers, in the classroom, working with the students, observing and working with students daily to assess ability, diagnose need and measure progress. Teachers who have set goals with the students and provide their expert services to move the learning and skill development along. It would make sense, then, to focus the resources and time we have around the idea of assessing where it will have the most impact. Teachers already complain that they spend more time assessing than they do teaching. I know in some situations that that may not be far from the truth.
Let’s make assessment count. Make it about the student being assessed. Benchmarks at the beginning of the year serve a much clearer and pragmatic purpose than Provincial Achievement tests at the end of the year. Especially for the youngest students. Assessment can and does serve a variety of purposes, but none are as important as those that directly affect the one being assessed.