Learning and Assessment

Ms. DelVillar's class posing for my blog and pretending they are taking a test.

Ms. DelVillar's class posing for my blog and pretending they are taking a test.

This morning in our faculty meeting we continued the discussions about learning that we started in our professional development session with Amherst Professor Hari Stephen Kumar in August, however, we shifted our focus from curriculum planning to a discussion of assessment. Many of us here at Dublin have been influenced by the work of the late Grant Wiggins, who, among other things, urged educators to design their courses backwards. He believed that we should think about the outcomes we desire to see in our students before beginning to plan a potentially incongruent syllabus for a course. For instance, I am co-teaching a science course for the first time in my career with Stephanie Clark, a member of the Science Department. One of the outcomes for our course involves developing the ability within our students for them to formulate interesting hypotheses. Wiggins, then, would argue that we should think backwards from that outcome and create a plan that teaches students how to hypothesize, model hypothesizing for them, and give them lots of practice at hypothesizing. And, if hypothesizing is something we value, we should find a way to assess their ability to hypothesize so that they have ready feedback.

Bloom's updated taxonomy. Higher order thinking required as you climb Gillespie Hall.

Bloom's updated taxonomy. Higher order thinking required as you climb Gillespie Hall.

In the meeting, Academic Dean Sarah Doenmez and I presented the faculty with three different assessments from three very different teachers this morning. We asked them to try to determine what each of the teachers valued in their courses by studying one assessment from each of their courses. From a student's point of view an assessment is a strong statement about what a teacher is placing value on within their course. We used Professor Kumar's idea of using Bloom's Revised Taxonomy to determine what kinds of learning the assessments measured. 

The faculty found that the first assessment valued remembering and understanding, the second assessment called for significant creating and applying, and the final assessment focused on applying, analyzing and evaluating. Interestingly, while teachers were not allowed to judge the merits of the assessments, I pointed out that I could tell from their reactions which teachers liked which assessments. We discussed how our students are similar to our faculty in that their learning styles are different from one another and some students thrive with high order thinking while others thrive when asked to demonstrate mastery of concepts and information. The goal of our exercise was to encourage everyone to think intentionally about the design of their assessments so that what they are assessing matches what they hope their students will be learning. We want to avoid the scenario below, where a students gets frustrated when assessment and learning do not match up (thank you to Wyatt for posing for this picture!!).

A student demonstrating their frustrated look for me.

A student demonstrating their frustrated look for me.