Contemporary Educational Psychology/Chapter 10: Teacher-made Assessment Strategies/Assessment That Enhances Motivation
Assessment that Enhances Motivation and Student Confidence
Studies on testing and learning conducted more than 20 years ago demonstrated that tests promote learning and that more frequent tests are more effective than less frequent tests (Dempster & Perkins, 1993). Frequent smaller tests encourage continuous effort rather than last minute cramming and may also reduce test anxiety because the consequences of errors are reduced. College students report preferring more frequent testing than infrequent testing (Bangert-Downs, Kulik, Kulik, 1991). More recent research indicates that teachers’ assessment purpose and beliefs, the type of assessment selected, and the feedback given contributes to the assessment climate in the classroom which influences students’ confidence and motivation. The use of self-assessment is also important in establishing a positive assessment climate.
Teachers’ Purposes and Beliefs
Student motivation can be enhanced when the purpose of assessment is promoting student learning and this is clearly communicated to students by what teachers say and do (Harlen, 2006). This approach to assessment is associated with what the psychologist Carol Dweck (2000) calls an incremental view of ability or intelligence. An incremental view assumes that ability increases whenever an individual learns more. This means that effort is valued because effort leads to knowing more and therefore having more ability. Individuals with an incremental view also ask for help when needed and respond well to constructive feedback as the primary goal is increased learning and mastery. In contrast, a fixed view of ability assumes that some people have more ability than others and nothing much can be done to change that. Individuals with a fixed view of ability often view effort in opposition to ability (“smart people don’t have to study”) and so do not try as hard, and are less likely to ask for help as that indicates that they are not smart. While there are individual differences in students’ beliefs about their views of intelligence, teachers’ beliefs and classroom practices influence students’ perceptions and behaviors.
Teachers with an incremental view of intelligence communicate to students that the goal of learning is mastering the material and figuring things out. Assessment is used by these teachers to understand what students know so they can decide whether to move to the next topic, re-teach the entire class, or provide remediation for a few students. Assessment also helps students’ understand their own learning and demonstrate their competence. Teachers with these views say things like, “We are going to practice over and over again. That’s how you get good. And you’re going to make mistakes. That’s how you learn.” (Patrick, Anderman, Ryan, Edelin, Midgley, 2001, p. 45).
In contrast, teachers with a fixed view of ability are more likely to believe that the goal of learning is doing well on tests especially outperforming others. These teachers are more likely to say things that imply fixed abilities e.g., “This test will determine what your math abilities are,” or that stress the importance of interpersonal competition, “We will have speech competition and the top person will compete against all the other district schools and last year the winner got a big award and their photo in the paper.” When teachers stress interpersonal competition some students may be motivated but there can only a few winners so there are many more students who know they have no change of winning. Another problem with interpersonal competition in assessment is that the focus can become winning rather than understanding the material.
Teachers who communicate to their students that ability is incremental and that the goal of assessment is promoting learning rather that ranking students, awarding prizes to those who did very well, or catching those who did not pay attention, are likely to enhance students’ motivation.
The choice of assessment task also influence students’ motivation and confidence.
- Assessments that have clear criteria that students understand and can meet rather than assessments that pit students against each other in interpersonal competition enhances motivation (Black & Wiliam, 2006). This is consistent with the point we made in the previous section about the importance of focusing on enhancing learning for all students rather than ranking students.
- Meaningful assessment tasks enhance student motivation. Students often want to know why they have to do something and teachers need to provide meaningful answers. For example, a teacher might say, “You need to be able to calculate the area of a rectangle because if you want new carpet you need to know how much carpet is needed and how much it would cost.” Well designed performance tasks are often more meaningful to students than selected response tests so students will work harder to prepare for them.
- Providing choices of assessment tasks can enhance student sense of autonomy and motivation according to self determination theory (see Chapter 6). Kym, the 6th grade teacher whose story began this chapter, reports that giving students choices was very helpful. Another middle school social studies teacher Aaron, gives his students a choice of performance tasks at the end of the unit on the Bill of Rights. Students have to demonstrate specified key ideas but can do that by making up a board game, presenting a brief play, composing a rap song etc. Aaron reports that students work much harder on this performance assessment which allows them to use their strengths than previously when he did not provide any choices and gave a more traditional assignment. Measurement experts caution that a danger of giving choices is that the assessment tasks are no longer equivalent and so the reliability of scoring is reduced so it is particularly important to use well designed scoring rubrics. Fourth, assessment tasks should be challenging but achievable with reasonable effort (Elliott, McGregor & Thrash, 2004). This is often hard for beginning teachers to do who may give assessment tasks that are too easy or too hard because they have to learn to match their assessment to the skills of their students.
When the goal is assessment for learning, providing constructive feedback that helps students know what they do and do not understand as well as encouraging them to learn from their errors is fundamental. Effective feedback should be given as soon as possible, as the longer the delay between students’ work and feedback the longer students will continue to have some misconceptions. Also, delays reduce the relationship between students’ performance and the feedback, as students can forget what they were thinking during the assessment. Effective feedback should also inform students clearly what they did well and what needs modification. General comments just as “good work- A”, or “needs improvement” do not help students understand how to improve their learning. Giving feedback to students using well designed scoring rubrics helps clearly communicate strengths and weaknesses. Obviously grades are often necessary, but teachers can minimize the focus by placing the grade after the comments or on the last page of a paper. It can also be helpful to allow students to keep their grades private making sure when returning assignments that the grade is not prominent (e.g., by not using red ink on the top page) and by never asking students to read their scores aloud in class. Some student choose to share their grades, but that should be their decision, not their teacher's.
When grading, teachers often become angry at the mistakes that student make. It is easy for teachers to think something like, “With all the effort I put into teaching and this student couldn’t even be bothered to follow the directions or spell check!” Many experienced teachers believe that communicating their anger is not helpful, so rather than saying, “How dare you turn in such shoddy work,” they rephrase it as, “I am disappointed that your work on this assignment does not meet the standards set” (Sutton, 2003). Research evidence also suggests that comments such as “You are so smart” for a high quality performance can be counterproductive. This is surprising to many teachers but if students are told they are smart when the produce a good product, then if they do poorly on the next assignment the conclusion must be they are “not smart.” More effective feedback focuses on positive aspects of the task (not the person), as well as strategies, and effort. The focus of the feedback should relate to the criteria set by the teacher and how improvements can be made.
When the teacher and student are from different racial/ethnic backgrounds providing feedback that enhances motivation and confidence but also includes criticism can be particularly challenging because the students of color have historical reasons to distrust negative comments from a White teacher. Research by Cohen Steele, Ross (1999) indicates that “wise” feedback from teachers needs three components: positive comments, criticisms, and an assurance that the teacher believes the student can reach higher standards.
Self and Peer Assessment
In order to reach a learning goal, students need to understand the meaning of the goal, the steps necessary to achieve a goal, and if they are making satisfactory progress towards that goal (Sadler, 1989). This involves self assessment and recent research has demonstrated that well designed self assessment can enhance student learning and motivation. For self assessment to be effective, students need explicit criteria such as those in an analytical scoring rubric. These criteria are either provided by the teacher or developed by the teacher in collaboration with students. Because students seem to find it easier to understand criteria for assessment tasks if they can examine other students’ work along side their own, self assessment often involves peer assessment. An example of a strategy used by teachers involves asking students to use “traffic lights” to indicate of their confidence in their assignment or homework. Red indicates that were unsure of their success, orange that they were partially unsure, and green that they were confident of their success. The students who labeled their own work as orange and green worked in mixed groups to evaluate their own work while the teacher worked with the students who had chosen red.
If self and peer assessment is used it is particularly important that the teachers establish a classroom culture for assessment that is based on incremental views of ability and learning goals. If the classroom atmosphere focuses on interpersonal competition, students have incentives in self and peer assessment to inflate their own evaluations (and perhaps those of their friends) because there are limited rewards for good work.
- Dempster, F. N. & Perkins, P. G. (1993). Revitalizating classroom assessment: Using tests to promote learning. Journal of Instructional Psychology, 20(3) 197-203.
- Bangert-Downs, R. L.,Kulik, J. A., & Kulik, C-L, C. (1991). Effects of frequent classroom testing. Journal of Educational Research, 85(2), 89-99.
- Harlen, W. The role of assessment in developing motivation for learning. In J. Gardner (Ed.). Assessment and learning (pp. 61-80). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
- Dweck, C. S. (2000) Self-theories: Their role in motivation, personality, and development. Philadelphia, PA: Psychology Press.
- Patrick, H., Anderman, L., Ryan, A., Endelin, K., Midgley, C. (2001). Teachers' communications of goal orientations to students. Elementary School Journal, 102(1), 35-58.
- Black, P., & Wiliam,D. (2006). Assessment for learning in the classroom. In J. Gardner (Ed.). Assessment and learning(pp. 9-25). Thousand Oaks, CA:Sage.
- Elliott, A., McGregor, H., & Thrash, T. (2004). The need for competence. In E. Deci & R. Ryan (Eds.), Handbook of self-determination research (pp. 361-388). Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press.
- Sutton, R. E. (2004). Emotional regulation goals and strategies of teachers. Social Psychology of Education,7(4), 379-398.
- Cohen, G., Steele, C., & Ross, L. The mentor's dilemma: Providing critical feedback across the racial divide. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 25(10), 1302-1318.
- Sadler, R. (1989). Formative assessment and the design of instructional systems. Instructional Science, 18(2), 1573-1592.