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A Paradigm Shift July 22, 2012

The topic of this module, “Thinking like an assessor” requires a real paradigm shift. Wiggins and McTighe weren’t kidding when they said “To think like an assessor prior to designing lessons does not come naturally or easily to many teachers.” and “Backward design demands that we overcome this natural instinct and comfortable habit.” (2005, p. 150) By “comfortable habit” they are referring to the practice of jumping right to the lessons and activities after we identify our targets.

     I particularly identified with the description of an activity designer when the question “How will I give students a grade (and justify it to their parents)?” (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005, p. 151) I teach in an environment where parents are very knowledgeable, goal oriented, and involved in the education of their children. For the most part this is a blessing, but it does make me as a teacher anticipate “justifying” a particular grade I may have given. I have been known to collect some representative samples of student work (“ activities”) and a key assessment or two just in case a parent needs more information behind a grade. While this saved work does a mediocre job of supporting a grade and usually satisfies parent inquiries, I am realizing that it really isn’t a purposeful method of gathering evidence that demonstrates authentic performance.

     Through our discussions this week I have also come to realize that photographs, recordings, and checklists are effective tools that aid in the observations and dialogues method of assessment on Wiggins and McTighe’s (2005, p. 152) Continuum of Assessments. There is an art to such anecdotal note taking and recording that I have yet to perfect! I plan to continue to collaborate with and observe colleagues’ practices in this area to gain more skill in this type of assessing.

     The topics of this module have brought to mind an interaction I had with a student in the beginning years of my career that indicated understanding on a deep level and clearly applied to the dialogs and observations methods on the Continuum of Assessments. We were in the midst of a math unit on patterns and I was having a conversation with a kindergarten student who was experiencing the recent separation of his parents. He was explaining to me how one week he will be with his mother, another week he will be with his dad, the next week with his mother, etc. As he was telling me this he stopped and said, “It’s kind of like a pattern!” This student was able to take recent learning from math and apply it in a way that helped him make sense of a situation that was totally out of the context of math. It would have been difficult to craft an assessment that revealed deep learning as well as this simple interaction did.

 Wiggins, G, & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design. Alexandria, Virginia: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

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