I have a number of people in my PLN that have helped open my eyes and change my way of thinking on many topics. When it comes to the topic of assessment and testing, Joe Bower has had a big impact on me. Joe’s posts like this, this and this have helped me see the error of our traditional ways. I am not suggesting I have revamped everything in my classroom or my school, but I am convinced, and will look for ways to improve my assessment practices.
Looking back, I always thought that changing my assessment practices would be very difficult. I attended conferences and heard about different ways of assessing student understanding and development, but I also thought a lot of it was idealistic. The concept of project based learning, portfolio presentations or journaling in place of multiple choice testing is of course very exciting, but would students accept these forms of assessment? How hard would it be to set up? How would the parents react? I really felt like this would be something I might try down the road but maybe not soon.
Well today one of the teachers in my building showed me just how wrong I was. Landon is a bright, motivated and enthusiastic 2nd year teacher in our building. Last week as we were planning for our final weeks of school he mentioned that he wasn’t actually having a final exam, but rather a final project. Pretty ambitious I thought, but I was also very interested to see how it went. Well today was the day and about an hour into our morning I received an email from Landon telling me to pop down to his class in about an hour to see the students’ completed work. After an hour I walked down to his classroom and when I walked in I saw his kids all buzzing around and working diligently at their stations. They had produced prezi’s to show the plot line of their novel study. The information in their prezis was organized to mirror the rising action and climax of the plot, so when you looked at the whole thing, it looked exactly like a plot diagram. It was great! I was then called over to see one particular student’s work. She is a great kid and has a lot going for her, but she has had some difficulties over the course of the year and I have had the chance to talk with her on a few occasions in settings not nearly as pleasant as this one. As she showed me her prezi, she was beaming, and it was very clear she was proud of the work she had done. It was a sentiment shared by many in the room. I can’t imagine the same feelings would have existed had Landon simply used a multiple choice final exam.
In that 15 minutes I spent in his classroom, I quickly saw that all my concerns and apprehensions about changing my assessment practices were silly. This clearly had taken no longer to set up than writing a 100 question multiple choice test would. His students were excited and engaged, and they created great work that showed their understanding and all that they have learned in his class. I can’t imagine any parent, teacher, or administrator would have argued that this assessment wasn’t effective.
To be honest, I was motivated to write this post partly out of the insight it provided me and partly because of how proud I am of Landon and the work he is doing in our building. Regardless, Landon’s final project for his class should be an example to all of us that change doesn’t always have to be difficult, time consuming or slow. If you can do what’s right for kids, and can make it work for you in your classroom, then what is to stop you? We can all bounce around great articles on the problems with standardized tests, but its going to take people standing up and making change happen. If you want to get rid of these less effective ways of assessment, then just say no, and do something about it. Landon has motivated me to try and make change in my practice when I return to the classroom this fall, I hope he pushes you to do the same.