Contemporary Educational Psychology/Chapter 10: Teacher-Made Assessment Strategies/Adjusting Instruction re Assessment
Adjusting Instruction Based on Assessment
Using assessment information to adjust instruction is fundamental to the concept of assessment for learning. Teachers make these adjustments “in the moment” during classroom instruction as well as during reflection and planning periods. Teachers use the information they gain from questioning and observation to adjust their teaching during classroom instruction. If students cannot answer a question, the teacher may need to rephrase the question, probe understanding of prior knowledge, or change the way the current idea is being considered. It is important for teachers to learn to identify when only one or two students are struggling with the concept so need individual help, and when a large proportion of the class is struggling so whole group intervention is needed.
After the class is over, effective teachers spend time analyzing how well the lessons went, what students did and did not seem to understand, and what needs to be done the next day. Evaluation of student work also provides important information for teachers. If many students are confused about a similar concept the teacher needs to re-teach it and consider new ways of helping students understand the topic. If the majority of students complete the tasks very quickly and well, the teacher might decide that the assessment was not challenging enough. Sometimes teachers become dissatisfied with the kinds of assessments they have assigned when they are grading – perhaps because they realize there was too much emphasis on lower level learning, that the directions were not clear enough, or the scoring rubric needed modification. Teachers who believe that assessment data provides information about their own teaching and that they can find ways to influence student learning have high teacher efficacy or beliefs that they can make a difference in students’ lives. In contrast, teachers who think that student performance is mostly due to fixed student characteristics or the homes they come from (e.g., “no wonder she did so poorly considering what her home life is like”) have low teacher efficacy (Tschannen-Moran, Woolfolk Hoy, & Hoy, 1998).
Communication with Parents and Guardians
Clear communication with parents about classroom assessment is important – but often difficult for beginning teachers. The same skills that are needed to communicate effectively with students are also needed when communicating with parents and guardians. Teachers need to be able to explain to parents the purpose of the assessment, why they selected this assessment technique, and what the criteria for success are. Some teachers send home newsletters monthly or at the beginning of a major assessment task explaining the purpose and nature of the task, any additional support that is needed (e.g. materials, library visits), and due dates. Some parents will not be familiar with performance assessments or the use of self and peer assessment so teachers need to take time to explain these approaches carefully.
Many school districts now communicate though websites that have mixtures of public information available to all parents in the class (e.g. curriculum and assessment details) as well information restricted to the parents or guardians of specific students (e.g., the attendance and grades). Teachers report this is helpful as parents have access to their child’s performance immediately and when necessary, can talk to their child and teacher quickly.
The recommendations we provided above on the type of feedback that should be given to students also apply when talking to parents. That is, the focus should be on students’ performance on the task, what was done well and what needs work, rather than general comments about how “smart” or “weak” the child is. If possible, comments should focus on strategies that the child uses well or needs to improve (e.g. reading test questions carefully, organization in a large project). When the teacher is white and the student or parents are minority trust can be an issue so using “wise” feedback when talking to parents may help.
Action Research: Studying yourself and your students
Assessment for learning emphasizes devising and conducting assessment data in order to improve teaching and learning and so is related to action research (also called teacher research). In Chapter 1, we described action research as studies conducted by teachers of their own students or their own work. Action research can lead to decisions that improve a teacher’s own teaching or the teaching of colleagues. Kym, the teacher we described at the beginning of this chapter, conducted action research in her own classroom as she identified a problem of poor student motivation and achievement, investigated solutions during the course on motivation, tried new approaches, and observed the resulting actions. In recent years, action research has become increasingly valued by educators as a way of learning about and improving their own work. It is so important, in fact, that we offer a more complete discussion of it at the end of this book, in Chapter 13.
Cycles of Planning, Acting and Reflecting
Action research is usually described as a cyclical process with the following stages (Mertler, 2006).
- Planning Stage Planning has three components. First, it involves identifying and defining a problem. Problems sometimes start with some ill defined unease or feeling that something is wrong and it can take time to identify the problem clearly so that it becomes a researchable question. The next step, is reviewing the related literature and this may occur within a class or workshop that the teachers are attending. Teachers may also explore the literature on their own or in teacher study groups. The third step is developing a research plan. The research plan includes what kind of data will be collected (e.g. student test scores, observation of one or more students, as well as how and when it will be collected (e.g. from files, in collaboration with colleagues, in Spring or Fall semester).
- Acting Stage During this stage the teacher is collecting and analyzing data. The data collected and the analyses do not need to be complex because action research, to be effective, has to be manageable.
- Developing an Action Plan In this stage the teacher develops a plan to make changes and implements the changes. This is the action component of action research and it is important that teachers document their actions carefully so that they can communicate them to others.
- Communicating and Reflection An important component of all research is communicating information. Results can be shared with colleagues in the school or district, in an action research class at the local college, at conferences, or in journals for teachers. Action research can also involve students as active participants and if this is the case, communication may include students and parents. Communicating with others helps refine ideas and so typically aids in reflection. During reflection teachers/researchers ask such questions as, “What did I learn?” “What should I have done differently?” “What should I do next?” Questions such as these often lead to a new cycle of action research beginning with planning and then moving to the other steps.
Ethical issues—privacy and voluntary consent
Teachers are accustomed to collecting students’ test scores, data about performances, and descriptions of behaviors as an essential component of teaching. However, if teachers are conducting action research and they plan to collect data that will be shared outside the school community then permission from parents (or guardians) and students must be obtained in order to protect the privacy of students and their families. Typically permission is obtained by an informed consent form that summarizes the research, describes the data that will be collected, indicates that participation is voluntary, and provides a guarantee of confidentiality or anonymity (Hubbard & Power, 2005). Many large school districts have procedures for establishing informed consent as well as person in the central office who is responsible for the district guidelines and specific application process. If the action research is supported in some way by a college of university (e.g., through a class) then informed consent procedures of that institution must be followed.
One common area of confusion for teachers is the voluntary nature of student participation in research. If the data being collected are for a research study, students can choose not to participate. This is contrary to much regular classroom instruction where teachers tell students they have to do the work or complete the tasks.
- Tschannen-Moran, M., Woolfolk-Hoy, A., & Hoy, W. K. (1998). Teacher efficacy: Its meaning and measure. Review of Educational Research, 68, 202-248.
- Mertler, C. A. (2006). Action research: Teachers as researchers in the classroom. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
- Hubbard, R. S., & Power, B. M. (2003). The art of classroom inquiry, A handbook for teachers-researchers (2nd ed.). Portsmith, NH: Heinemann.