Assessment: Beginning with the End in Mind

“If you don’t know where you are going, every road will get you nowhere.” – Henry Kissinger

Chapter three of Making Classroom Assessment Work shows how this quote, by Henry Kissinger, is true for both teaching and learning. As teachers, we need to plan our lessons with clear intentions of what we want students to learn. Students also need to know what they are trying to accomplish, in order to be their most successful.

When planning lessons, “the first question a teacher needs to answer is: What do I want my students to learn?” (Davies 25). What students need to learn comes from the curriculum outcomes, examples of exemplary student work, and what students current ability levels are (25-26). The curriculum outcomes are the same, but still open for some inquiry and interpretation. Examples of student work may clear up uncertainty about quality, but I think we should keep our minds open to different ways of showing understanding. Student diversity may alter our end goals, but gathering pre-assessments can help differentiate for  students’ needs. All of the different aspects that affect the way we plan must be taken into consideration and properly planned for. If the teacher is unsure of where the students should be going, then the students will struggle to find understanding and have no sure way of knowing if they have gained the understanding that they should have.

Another important part of planning with the end in mind is to include students. Based on research, Davies reports that “when we know what we’re going to be doing, we mentally prepare ourselves and activate more of our brain by doing so” (26). Davies describes the process, of including students in constructing the learning targets, to be “[d]escribing the [l]earning [d]estination” in student friendly terms, sharing such descriptions with the students, and then using those outcomes to guide the learning and assessment process (27-30). Involving students in these ways helps them identify where they need to go and direct their learning in their own terms.

As an educator, it would be very difficult to plan lessons and assess student work if I didn’t know exactly what kind of understanding I wanted them to come to. It would be flimsy and unproductive. That is why we do backwards planning, because the activities and assessment should reflect what the students are meant to learn. Moreover, as a student, not knowing what I am supposed to have learned is incredibly stressful. I don’t like that type of uncertainty in my learning and it makes my job as a student difficult. However, if I know where I am supposed to be going then I am able to work towards a goal and assess myself along the way.

I used to have this notion that the lessons I taught would deliver the students to deep understanding, while all of the theories and learning goals were carefully constructed behind the curtain. I now realize that that is nonsensical and if I want my students to learn and have an active part in their education, as I wish them to, I need to let them in on the learning goals. I need to let them play a significant part in constructing their learning. There needs to be transparency. We all need to know where we are and where we are trying to go.

Davies, Anne. Making Classroom Assessment Work. 3rd ed. Courtenay, B.C.: Connections Pub., 2011. Print.

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