When students become proficient at assessing their own level of learning, they drive the instruction. Jill Gough, the Chief Technology Integration Specialist for the Westminster Schools in Atlanta, Georgia, is passionate about creating effective, student-friendly learning targets and thereby teaching students how to judge their own achievements in mathematics. She demonstrates that when teachers move out of the role of “grader” and become facilitators instead, they help students become responsible for their own learning.
In the kind of classroom Jill describes, students are empowered to ask each other for help, tell the teacher that they need some direct instruction, and create their own goals for each class period. Students feel free to move about the classroom and converse with each other in small groups because they are seeking out the information they need. When assessments are used to help students move forward rather than to provide a final grade, students know that they can progress; they are no longer stuck at “I don’t get it.”
Conducted correctly, assessments can lead to very accurate analysis; they allow teachers to see whether or not the students are actually learning. Jill explains that it’s not really formative assessment unless it changes classroom practice. Once a former algebra teacher, Jill describes how she has seen formative assessments make a difference:
The students might come to me and say, “Mrs. Gough, I can do this if you give me the graph, but if you take it to the next level I’m now a little bit stuck. Can you help me progress in my understanding so that I can do it at the 8th grade target level?” And they might actually say, “You know, I could do this 8th grade algebra right now. I want to challenge myself.” And we find that happening a lot. “I want to go further.” Kids naturally want to learn and if we can give them the strength and acknowledgment “This is what I’m really really good at, how can I make it better? How can I challenge myself?” They’re almost always up for the challenge. They just need a path and some direction.
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