Thursday, July 20, 2017

Summer Reading: Assessment 3.0

Each summer I intentionally mix a little professional reading into my bedside book pile. In many instances, the titles I choose for this purpose are read with the thought of using them to enhance the  range of content for the courses I teach. More and more frequently, however, books are chosen in an effort to improve my teaching craft. Late this spring, a coaching/teaching peer of mine from a neighboring district began chronicling his move toward a "grade-less classroom" on his personal blog.

In an effort to reach out to like-minded educators, he also invited others to dialogue about their own efforts on Twitter. Though I have often thought (and read a little about) the use of anecdotal evidence and conferencing in place of traditional numbers as a means of assessing and motivating student learning, the excuses I could (and continue to) tell myself far superseded my will. I also was unclear as to what primary text could best articulate a practical approach.

Assessment 3.0 by Mark Barnes was the book he suggested I start with.

As the subtitle Throw Out Your Grade Book and Inspire Learning suggests, this is a book of interest primarily to educators. I read this as a means of personal professional development over the summer at the suggestion of a colleague. Short (124 pages including appendices), Barnes’ book is written in very accessible language for teachers of all experience levels. The author uses examples from a variety of educational levels as a means of validating his assertion that using his model of assessment (SE2R) will lead to more independently motivated learners.

The approach employed by Barnes in delivering instruction and feedback can be distilled down to "four simple words," which when combined result in the aforementioned acronym SE2R: Summarize, Explain, Redirect, Resubmit. Assessment 3.0 guides the reader though numerous situations across multiple disciplines and grade levels using this technique to promote the creation of an ongoing, objective conversation about learning. The final result, if properly facilitated, is mastery learning on the part of the student.

As a widely read piece of educational literature, there are quite a few excellent summaries and thoughtful analysis on the validity of Assessment 3.0, much of it written by teachers implementing it. Though I am currently just researching and evaluating the potential, I did have two thoughts:

  • The greatest challenge to change is time, and Barnes addresses that concern head on, by acknowledging and asserting that "Yes, You Have Time For Feedback" (64), and furthermore, offering some suggestions as to how to meed the added expectation of responding in "more than simply written descriptors of work." (61) The central point of his concept is that the work, whether by student or teacher, should be meaningful and that this targeted conversation is a way to make it so.
  • While a well-intentioned (if traditional) educator, I continue to operate under a number of the misconceptions (preconceptions?) regarding effective student assessment and learning that Barnes' work seek to counteract. This doesn't make me "bad," or even ineffective, but it does shed light on the truth that there are areas for improvement. Throughout Assessment 3.0, Barnes cautions against an all-or-nothing mindset, suggesting the practical, intellectual and cultural transition necessary for the shift to an SE2R-centric approach. I am excited to follow the implementation of my colleague at another school district, but the extensive leg work and culture building with administration and colleagues he has taken on prior to doing so reminds me that I am still only cherry-picking.

Ultimately, good books, like good teaching, provoke more questions (the result being the dialogue key) than answers. As an introduction to grade-less (number-less) teaching Assessment 3.0 makes a compelling argument for more research on the subject by interested educators such as your's truly.

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