Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Rethinking Pre Assessment

I'm still thinking this one through, but I am starting to think I've been doing pre-assessment all wrong.  Let's take math as an example.  Typically, I've found something out of an old testament, oops, I mean, an old text book, that covers the basic skills that I plan to teach.  I take a few questions from each skill set I intend to cover and clumsily cut and paste them (literally!) onto another piece of paper and pop it into the printer.  Out come identical ugly preassessment "tests"that students either ace or have no idea what they are doing on or simply don't take seriously because they are so unprofessionally presented that they can't bother taking the time to do it, especially since they know it has no bearing on their grades.

I'm pretty much marked as a failure from moment one, right?  I mean, I shouldn't even have text books in my class to refer to if I were a "real" inquiry teacher, right?  I would conjure everything out of my pretty little head...

Fortunately, I have seen a little bit of the light lately.  If I am (mostly) teaching in a constructivist manner, surely my pre-assessments can be tasks that allow students to use their thinking skills to construct some meaning of their own.  I want to see where they are at in terms of their thinking more than I want to see how much they remember from last year.

While math is indeed a spiralling curriculum, we sometimes forget how often concepts need to be revisited.  But not just concepts: thinking skills.  How do you assess how students think?

Well, I am about to do a stand alone unit on data handling.  Good fun, right?   It's a natural for inquiry because students will be able to create their own charts and graphs and thingamabobs.  They'll be able to survey whomever they want about whatever they want.

So here's what I am going to try: I'll let you know how it goes.  Without any talks of tallying or cumulative frequency or bar graphs or pie charts, I am going to have them each think of something they want to find out about their peers.  Then I'm going to let them figure out a way to ask them and record their answers.  Finally, they'll have to find some way to share their findings with the rest of us.

While they go through the process and observe and then listen to what other students have done, not only will I be getting some valuable information about what they do and do not know, I figure they'll be figuring out a whole lot on their own and through their peers.  Pre-assessment and inquiry learning come together in the perfect marriage!

Learn as you go...

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