Yesterday was the second day of orientation for new teachers. As usual, there’s a lot of information to digest and, although I retained some key ideas, I’m sure I will be relearning a lot of things over the coming months. And, even though many of us present have done similar kinds of orientation sessions more than once in our careers, it’s still important to do this now because as new teachers at this school we need to build our capacity for when the rest of the faculty joins us next week. Doing this work in a group of new teachers helps us develop common understandings about what this school is all about. We’ll need these understandings in order to continue to participate in future conversations at our new school.
At yesterday’s session we spent most of the morning talking about assessment. First, we were asked to discuss the following three questions: How does assessment impact student learning? What is the role of assessment in unit/lesson planning? And, what role does the student play in assessment? Then, each group shared important pieces of their discussion. Many of the groups were thinking alike though there was some discussion about what is the difference between formative (assessment-for-learning) and summative assessments (assessment-of-learning) and how much emphasis to place on each kind.
The bottom line is that formative assessments are intended to serve as guiding posts along the way to help the teacher and students determine how well students are doing and where the teacher might need to go next with a particular student or group of students. My small group talked about the importance of giving kids choice, differentiating instruction and assessment tasks, student self-assessment, developing clearly defined and visible learning goals, and the place and importance of using formative assessment vs. summative assessments.
What I like about assessment at this school is what I heard from administration leading the discussions. Ultimately, what we want are self-directed learners (as stated on the school’s website), not regurgitators. We want students to produce interesting stuff. We don’t just want them to memorize information. We want them to use information to create new products and ideas. To paraphrase one administrator: we want content to be the way we awaken curiosity in our students.
I can live with that.